The two big sides in Pool One of the Heineken Cup clash at Thomond Park at 6pm this Saturday, when the home side Munster, welcome Northampton to the County Limerick venue.
Castres and Scarlets make up the group, but realistically this pool should boil down to the two teams that face off this weekend. It is difficult to separate the sides on paper, but each will be well aware that they need to win their home ties if they are to have any chance of topping the group. Northampton are one of the emerging teams in the competition and were finalists in last year’s tournament. They appeared to have Leinster dead and buried at half-time but allowed the Irish side back into the match. The loss of 2011 is certain to hurt and the English club will be going all out to atone this season.
Munster have twice won the competition and have had a mixed season to date. Having made a bright start to the RaboDirect Pro12, they have now lost three of their last four games and have dropped to third in the table. However, the influence of Anthony Foley is beginning to show in the forward line, and BJ Botha has been a huge addition to the scrum. The South African has really settled into the side since his transfer from Ulster and he has brought real stability to the team. The return of Ronan O’Gara to the side is also a massive boost,although Ian Keatley has been outstanding to date.
The loss of Felix Jones, David Wallace and Keith Earls through injury are huge blows for Munster. Wallace in particular is a massive loss in a game of this nature. Keatley may well move to fullback for this game,while there will be added pressure on Donnacha Ryan, Denis Leamy and James Coughlan. The starting side will almost certainly be close to the one that lost to Leinster last weekend.
Northampton welcome back the likes of Chris Ashton and Ben Foden from World Cup duty. Their presence will greatly lift the visitors and ensure that Munster are made to battle for the points this weekend. However, if the men in red are to be seen as serious contenders this season they will need to win their home games, starting this Saturday. Munster get the verdict in what has the makings of a classic contest.
Munster Rugby Form Guide
30/04/11 Munster 12 – 20 Harlequins 24,907
09/04/11 Brive 37 – 42 Munster 8,500
22/01/11 Munster 28 – 14 L Irish 26,000
Northampton Saints Form Guide
21/5/11 Leinster 33 – 22 Northampton 72,456
01/5/11 Northampton 23 – 7 Perpignan 18,231
10/4/11 Northampton 23 – 13 Ulster 21,309
10/04/10 Munster Rugby 33 – 19 Northampton Saints 26,000
22/01/10 Munster Rugby 12 – 9 Northampton Saints 26,000
10/10/09 Northampton Saints 31 – 27 Munster Rugby 13,550