Munster v London Irish, Heineken Cup, January 22
Wounded Munster welcome Exiles
January 21, 2011
Lifeimi Mafu has been recalled to the Munster midfield © PA Photos
Munster welcome London Irish to Thomond Park on Saturday with their Heineken Cup dream in tatters following last weekend's tumultuous loss to Toulon.
The two-time champions have fallen at the first hurdle for the first time in 12 seasons, a damaging psychological blow and one that they will be keen to forget this weekend against the Exiles, who themselves snapped out of a 10-game funk with a deserved win over the Ospreys in the last round.
The Premiership side took the spoils when the teams met at the Madejski back in October, when Munster's late rally to lose 23-16 and secure a bonus point was viewed as admirable resilience rather than the beginning of the end.
Munster - Player to Watch: Tomas O'Leary was left out of the Ireland squad for the Six Nations earlier this week, expect the scrum-half to make the most of his start this weekend.
Munster - Team News: Tony McGahan has made a number of changes, two positional, to his side for the game, with Mick O'Driscoll preferred to Donncha O'Callaghan in the second-row and Niall Ronan named at openside. David Wallace shifts to blindside as a result while in the backs, Lifeimi Mafi replaces Sam Tuitupou and O'Leary starts ahead of Peter Stringer at scrum-half. Johne Murphy shifts to fullback and Denis Hurley is recalled on the wing.
London Irish - Player to Watch: Darren Allinson keeps Paul Hodgson on the bench this weekend and the young Welshman will experience another lesson in his rugby education this weekend in the surrounds of Thomond Park.
London Irish - Team News: Dan Bowden has been retained at fly-half following a strong showing last weekend while Topsy Ojo shifts to fullback as cover for the banned Delon Armitage. His place on the wing is filled by the fit again Adam Thompstone.
Key Battle: Munster have been guilty of reverting to type under pressure but on their own ground they have shown glimpses of a new-found attacking arsenal. London Irish will have to stop them from generating quick ball at the breakdown.
Trivia: The last time Munster exited the tournament at the group stage was in the 1997-98 season, when they finished bottom of the pile behind Harlequins, Cardiff and Bourgoin.
Stats: Despite their recent troubles, Munster still represent a significant challenge at home, having lost only twice in 50 Heineken Cup encounters on their home track.
Quote Unquote: "Of course I understand the supporter's disappointment. We feel it just as keenly. People went to extraordinary lengths and huge expense in difficult times to support us last weekend. And you like to repay that sort of loyalty. But I think we still can." - Munster coach Tony McGahan calls for a big effort.
"The win against the Ospreys was fantastic, we worked hard and earned a result. We need to keep that momentum rolling. We are under no illusions about the task ahead of us, Munster are an extremely well resourced side and we expect it to be tough." - London Irish head coach Toby Booth understands the size of their task.
Prediction: Munster don't take kindly to losing and they will have demanded an improvement this week in training. The Exiles could be in for a tough afternoon.
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