THIS weekend Munster are back in Heineken Cup action. It seems like years since the mighty men in red took on Sale in the last round. Granted, a lot of rugby has been played in the mean time, (mostly by New Zealand and Munster’s second stringers), but this Sunday at 3pm the Heineken Cup champions will go back to a ground that some say was the venue for last seasons winning of the tournament.
If you can recall Munster lost 26-19 last season in Clermont, but all squad members, to a man maintain, that the comeback in that second half was the real winning of the tournament last season. After all, that losing bonus point helped us top the group of death last time out. This year however, Munster go down to the south of France to face a slightly different Clermont. Yes they are still spending millions and millions. Yes they are still a force to be reckoned with, but they are no longer the immovable force at home that they were 12 months ago. After all, in this season’s competition, they have lost to Sale already. This doesn’t mean of course that Munster can just turn up and win. Far from it, but this season’s Munster team is even better than last. A point proven by the replacements available to coach Mc Gahan for the injured Jerry Flannery and Rua Tipoki. Keith Earls at 13 and Sheahen at two are more than capable of covering for their illustrious colleagues. Add in the Howlett and Donnacha Ryan factors and you can see why this time “Les Rouges” can face this fixture with a little more hope.
The game itself on Sunday will take the usual format for away Munster games. Especially those in France. The home side will try and batter their way through our 12-13 channel. Rather them than me. If that doesn’t work they will try it wide and quick. Again. Rather them than me against this resolute Munster defensive “Red Wall”. If all that fails, which we hope it will, then they will have to take us on up front. Again. This is not the best action. Is it a case then that Clermont are not in with a chance? Well, if form is anything to go by then they are not. As mentioned they lost to Sale at home and were unconvincing in a win against Montauban in the previous round. They lost last weekend to lowly Stade Montois in the Top 14 and some might say that the millionaire players are not worth the buck anymore.
Where can Munster win this one then. Well, a less red faced Ronan O Gara is the key again. As with all away games in Europe, the Cork man will have to be at his controlling best. Something I’m sure he will be at for this one. Sale beat the “yellow bellies” this year by delivering fast ball to their centres. With a deeper O Gara and a fast passing O Leary, Munster should find the gaps. Even before they go over there the French are expecting a tough encounter. In the press this weekend French international right winger and Clermont players, Julien Malzieu declared “Munster are one of the best teams in the world.”. Now doesn’t that make a change from years gone by when we went to France with a massive sense of pressure to keep in touch. You see I have to agree with Moiseur Malzieu. Munster are the best club team in the World. I think a relaxed O Gara and 14 mighty men in red still have some points to prove. This Sunday is the start of another Heineken Cup fortnight. At the far end of these two weeks we could be looking at flights to Edinburgh once more. That’s too cocky just yet, but Munster to win on Sunday is more of a no brainer.