Clermont Auvergne v Munster, Heineken Cup semi-final
Munster not daunted by Clermont challenge
April 26, 2013
CanMunster build on their quarter-final victory over Harlequins? © PA Photos
Munster boss Rob Penney is well aware of the enormous task facing his side against Clermont Auvergne on Saturday but is confident they can win and book a place in this season's Heineken Cup finale.
The two-time champions enter their semi-final clash with their French rivals in an unfamiliar position of being clear underdogs despite having ended the European hopes of Premiership champions Harlequins in the last eight.
Clermont are currently lead the Top 14 and are also unbeaten in this season's Heineken Cup having won all six of their pool clashes - including a double of defending champions Leinster - before beating Montpellier in the quarter-finals.
They are also unbeaten at their Stade Marcel Michelin home since 2009 but thankfully for Munster, this weekend's mouth-watering showdown takes place on neutral ground at Montpellier's Stade de la Mosson with the winner set to meet either Saracens or Toulon in the final next month.
"There is no doubt Clermont are roaring hot favourites and we are underdogs," said Penney, whose side are out of the running for the RaboDirect PRO12 title. "You can either thrive under that tag or wilt away. The best teams should be in the Heineken Cup at this stage, and Clermont are certainly in that bracket. But we still have a lot of expectation from the Munster public and supporters.
"We are going to go over there and give it a good crack. A game of rugby is such a dynamic one that on any given day an underdog can pull it off. It's 15 versus 15, we have a great referee in Nigel Owens and we just have to make sure we prepare well and perform."
Munster received a boost with the news that Clermont captain Aurelien Rougerie has been ruled out of the game with a thigh injury suffered in his side's most recent Top 14 success over Toulouse last weekend.
Clermont's Wales international fullback Lee Byrne is also taking nothing for granted against a side he knows well. "I've played them (Munster) a lot over the years, and they know how to win Heineken Cup matches," Byrne said. "We are under no illusions about what they're going to bring, and they have a great knack of pulling it out of the bag when it really matters. Hopefully, we can stop that."
Clermont backs coach Alex King believes that last year's agonising semi-final defeat to Leinster will serve as a warning to his side this time around. "The boys are only too aware of the dangers posed by an Irish side away from home after what happened last season," he told The Daily Telegraph.
"Munster have the best away record in France of any team. They have proven match-shapers in Ronan O'Gara at fly-half and Paul O'Connell in the pack. They know what it takes to win at this level. But our boys are more determined than ever to go one better that they managed in 2012."
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