Heineken Cup
Munster ready for Sharks' onslaught
January 15, 2009
Ronan O'Gara of Munster looks on during the Heineken Cup Semi Final match between Saracens and Munster at the Ricoh Arena on April 27, 2008 in Coventry, England.
Ronan O'Gara returns to the Munster side after recovering from a hamstring problem © Getty Images

Munster have received a timely boost ahead of their vital Heineken Cup Pool One tie with Sale Sharks at Thomond Park on Friday with the news that Ronan O'Gara is fit to start after a hamstring problem.

O'Gara missed Munster's 25-21 win over the Ospreys in the Magners League last Friday but has recovered to partner Tomas O'Leary at half-back against the Sharks. He is joined in the starting line-up by a fit-again Denis Leamy, who starts in a powerful back-row alongside Alan Quinlan and David Wallace.

Paul Warwick has recovered from a facial injury sustained against the Ospreys and is preferred to Denis Hurley at fullback, while Keith Earls partners Lifiemi Mafi in the centre.

With Sale only two points behind the reigning champions in Pool One, Friday's game carries a massive weight of importance for both sides, and fans will no doubt be in for another special European night at Thomond Park.

Munster won't be getting too carried away with their home advantage according to lock Donncha O'Callaghan, instead they will be approaching the game with a great deal of respect for their opposition.

"They're a quality side, they really are. I watched them against London Irish and they were very impressive," he said. "They have quality players right across the field, they're a big abrasive team, well able to put themselves about but at the same time they can play good rugby when they decide to.

"The group is still wide open. Any one of three can still win it - I wouldn't rule Clermont out although they have to travel to Sale. So this is a cup final for both of us, simple as that."

Sale have opted to rotate their scrum-halves for the trip to Limerick, with Richard Wigglesworth replacing Wales international Dwayne Peel. Wigglesworth partners Charlie Hodgson at half-back, while Luke McAlister and Andy Tuilagi start in the centre.

Mark Cueto, recently recalled to the England squad by Martin Johnson, starts at fullback, while Sebastien Chabal will be looking to exert his running game on proceedings from the second-row. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe skippers the side from No.8 as they look to take a step towards the quarter-finals before the visit of Clermont Auvergne.

"Quite simply, we need to win both our remaining games to stand a chance of qualifying for the quarter finals," said Sale Director of Rugby Phillipe Saint Andre. "As things stand any one of the four teams in our group can still qualify. We always knew it was winner takes all in Group A of the Heineken Cup and that no team would qualify as a runner up in this group.

" We have had a good run of late but this is a huge test for us, against the holders on their home ground. We have nearly 3000 of our fans making the journey with us and I am sure they will give the players great support."

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, L Mafi, I Dowling, R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), A Quinlan, D Wallace, D Leamy

Replacements: D Fogarty, F Pucciariello, D Ryan, N Ronan, P Stringer, B Murphy, D Hurley

Sale Sharks: Mark Cueto, Chris Bell, Andy Tuilagi, Luke McAlister, David Doherty, Charlie Hodgson, Richard Wigglesworth, Lionel Faure, Marc Jones, Eifion Roberts, Sebastien Chabal, Dean Schofield, Chris Jones, Neil Briggs, JM Fernandez Lobbe (capt)

Replacements: Stuart Turner, Andrew Sheridan, Brent Cockbain, Carl Fearns, Dwayne Peel, Rudi Keil, Mathew Tait

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

© Scrum.com

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