Heineken Cup - Game of the Week
Munster welcome Perpignan to Thomond
December 10, 2009
Munster skipper Paul O'Connell is back in action © Getty Images
Munster welcome French champions Perpignan to Thomond Park on Friday night in the first game of a mouth-watering back-to-back set of fixtures.
Munster top Pool 1 after two rounds despite their away loss to Northampton, with bonus-points secured at Franklin's Gardens and in a workmanlike home win over Benetton Treviso.
The ball is very much in Perpignan's court following their shock opening-day loss to Treviso in Italy although a comfortable win over the Saints at the Stade Aime Giral went some way to getting their quarter-final hopes back-on-track.
Munster coach Tony McGahan has left Springbok centre Jean de Villiers on the bench in order to bring Keith Earls into the centre alongside Lifemi Mafi, while Paul O'Connell, David Wallace and Denis Leamy return for the 2008 champions. Jerry Flannery is ruled out with a slight Achilles problem, with Denis Fogarty deputising.
Perpignan travel without skipper Jean-Pierre Perez who is out injured, but will be buoyed after a comfortable win over Montpellier saw them back to winning ways after a loss to Top 14 basement boys Albi and a swine-flu enforced postponement of their tie with Bayonne.
McGahan is in no doubt where the game will be won or lost and is expecting a fearsome battle up front.
"We'd be expecting them to be at their best. They've been in super form in the Top 14 this year and had a very good display at home to Northampton in round two," said McGahan. "They have an extremely good set piece. Anything twenty thirty metres out from the try-line whether its maul or scrum, the only thing they're thinking of is getting points.
"They're a very set piece dominated side. They play a lot of field position. They kick a lot from their back forty, back fifty so they don't play a lot of rugby from there at all. But their major threat is working their way from kicking, from forcing penalties at the set piece, to get down to the bottom twenty and they look to grind you down from there. Without a doubt the forwards will be the battle piece this weekend."
Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, L Mafi, D Hurley; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; W du Preez, D Fogarty, J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt); A Quinlan, D Wallace, D Leamy
Replacements: D Varley, D Hurley, T Buckley, M O'Driscoll, D Ryan, N Ronan, P Stringer, J de Villiers.
Perpignan: J Porical, F Sid, D Marty, M Mermoz, C Manas, G Hume, N Durand, P Freshwater, G Guirado, N Mas (capt), O Olibeau, R Tchale Watchou, Y Vivalda, B Guiry, Y Parent
Replacements: M Tincu, J Schuster, K Pulu, C Geli, D Mele, J Grandclaude, P Burger, R Alvarez Kairelis
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)