Munster have the chance to cement their position at the head of Pool One of the Heineken Cup when they welcome Scarlets to Thomond Park on Sunday afternoon (12.45pm kick off). The Irish province showed their new found resilience this season as they beat the Welsh side by three points last weekend and with home advantage they will be expected to do likewise this time round.
Ronan O’Gara has been the star for Munster to date this season and the standoff produced another magnificent performance last week, kicking four penalties in his side’s 17-14 victory.
Munster had to withstand a lot of pressure in Parc Y Scarlets last weekend and were it not for some unexpected wayward kicking and basic handling errors from Rhys Priestland and Stephen Jones the Welsh region’s previous unbeaten record would still be intact.
Munster’s now customary slow start saw the Scarlets establish an early 8-0 lead however fancy foot work from Niall Ronan aided by some quick passing by Denis Hurley saw Munster get back into it with the kicking accuracy of O’Gara enough to eventually see the men in red over the finish line.
Despite having yet to really hit top form in this competition, Munster have been grinding out the results each week, and a win on Sunday would see them with a strong lead in the table going into Christmas.
Scarlets made a promising start to the campaign and won their first two outings. While they would have been expected to beat Castres at home, it was somewhat of a shock to see them take the scalp of Northampton. The Welsh club made a brave bid to keep their unbeaten record last weekend and only just came up short.
Munster will have to raise their game and have every man playing to his full potential if they are to take the points in this return fixture. Priestland and his replacement Jones will be keen make amends from rare mistakes last weekend and with the deadly George North set to return the Scarlets will go all out to avoid a second defeat in a week.
Munster have a strong advantage over Nigel Davies side at present having won their last 13 games in all competitions, their last defeat coming at the quarter final stage of the 2007 Heineken cup.
With Thomond Park a fortress and home advantage like an extra man to Munster, it’s no surprise to find that the odds on a win offer little profit with Betfair placing a home win at odds of 1/4
An attractive punt might be the draw market especially as the sum of Munster’s three wining margins to date totals 8 points. A draw is currently 21/1 with Betfair
Munster are boosted by the inclusion of Keith Earls in the 29 man squad for the game with the versatile back fit again following the knee injury sustained against Leinster in November. Long term absentee’s Felix Jones, David Wallace and Doug Howlett are all still out.
The Scarlets have a doubt over flanker Aaron Shingler although they will be boosted by the return of their 19 year old protégé North after he missed last weekend with a dead leg with his coach Davies saying “George should be fit for this game. Aaron damaged his big toe, but apart from that and apart from our longer-term injuries, everybody’s looking okay.”
Marcus Horan, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer, John Hayes, BJ Botha, Denis Fogarty, Damien Varley, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell, Mick O’Driscoll, Ian Nagle, Billy Holland, Denis Leamy, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan, Tommy O’Donnell, Tomas O’Leary, Conor Murray, Ian Keatley, Ronan O’Gara, Johne Murphy, Denis Hurley, Scott Deasy, Simon Zebo, Will Chambers, Lifeimi Mafi, Danny Barnes, Keith Earls.
Referee: Dave Pearson (RFU)