Munster face a must win trip to Northampton

Joey Carbery and Jack Crowley leave the field after Munster’s loss to Toulouse at Thomond Park.

MUNSTER will need to get back on track immediately in the Heineken Champions Cup when they face Northampton Saints at Franklins Gardens on Sunday after opening their campaign with an 18-13 defeat to Toulouse at Thomond Park.

Without a victory in their second game, Munster could face an early exit from Europe in Graham Rowntree’s first year in charge. Toulouse’s power game was just too much for Munster in a foggy Thomond Park with Joey Carbery accounting for all 13 points. 

Carbery’s early try gave Munster the perfect start but they failed to build on that, and Toulouse went in at the break level thanks to Mattis Label’s try. Lucas Tauzin scored an early second half try and Toulouse never looked back. 

Rowntree admitted that Munster were up against as difficult a side that you could possibly face after the dust had settled on the Toulouse loss. 

“That’s about as tough as a test as you’ll get in world rugby,” he told the assembled media.

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“We’ll learn from it. We could have beaten them. We will fix what we can and keep making improvements. I see the way we’re challenging teams with ball in hand. I can see that, but we have to be better. 

“More clinical in their five metre and our five metre. We have got to keep momentum. We’ve got some momentum. We’ve not been perfect the last three weeks but we’ll look at what we can do better and we’ll keep driving forward.

Northampton were also beaten in the opening round, losing 46-12 to Ronan O’Gara’s defending champions La Rochelle. The Saints conceded 32 first half points in what was a disastrous start to their European season.

Phil Dowson’s charges currently sit sixth in the English Premiership table with four wins and six defeats from their 10 games this term. Despite the nature of the defeat to La Rochelle, Northampton did put up a big fight in the second half and welcomed England international Courtney Lawes back from injury.

Munster and Northampton have a storied history in this competition. The Saints were the opposition when Declan Kidney’s Munster reached their first final in 2000. On that day it was Northampton that came out victorious on a 9-8 scoreline. Another classic encounter occurred in 2011 when a last gasp O’Gara drop goal saw Munster to a 23-21 win in the group stages. 

Rowntree may welcome Conor Murray back into the squad for the trip to England after he recovered from a groin injury. Murray was back in training last week but was not part of the squad that took on Toulouse.

Elsewhere, Keith Earls made a welcome return off the bench. The 98-time winger/centre has been out since mid-September with a hamstring issue and will be pushing for a starting place this weekend.