The fact that it’s the French Champions Perpignan – a side who dismissed Munster’s conquerors Northampton almost nonchalantly in the last round – who are in town tonight lends a nervousness to the Limerick air ahead of the restart of the Heineken Cup.
Besides the fact that Perpignan are on top of their game right now, Munster’s last outing against Osprey was decidedly patchy and the visitors undoubtedly believe they can become just the second side to win at this venue since the competition started fourteen seasons ago.
For their part Munster believe that if they can eradicate the mistakes that have plagued their play. If they can produce on the pitch the good work they’re doing off it. And if they can bring the intensity that has made them such a phenomenal Heineken Cup side to Thomond Park Stadium this evening, the result will take care of itself.
One of their key go-to players is Alan Quinlan and the farmer’s son from Limerick Junction will play a key role in containing and combating an area that could prove crucial this evening.
Quinlan will win his 70 Heineken Cup and 184th Munster cap tonight and he likens the challenge to the international arena.
“These games are close to test level standard and if you want to get results most aspects of your game have to be on the higher of the scale of being absolutely right. You’re going to have mistakes and that’s part of it but there’s very little room for manouver against a side with the quality of Perpignan.” he said.
“Yes it is a massive game.” he continued. Obviously we’re not looking beyond it. Our focus these past few days has been solely on this game. On putting in a performance. We know that (performance) has been patchy. We don’t need reminding. They’re a very strong physical side. They’re the French champions and they’ve always been very competitive in this competition.
“But there’s a good buzz in the group. We’re looking forward to a tough challenge. A tough couple of weeks.”
Coach Tony McGahan has rung the changes with Keith Earls partnering Lifeimi Mafi in preference to Springbok Jean de Villiers while Denis Hurley gets the nod over Ian Dowling on the left wing.
Up front Denis Fogarty continues in the absence of the injured Jerry Flannery with another Springbok Wian du Preez on his left and the old reliable John Hayes on Fogarty’s right. Behind them they’ll have the familar weight of the two O’Cs with Quinlan joined in the back row by his Tipperary buddy Denis Leamy and David Wallace on the openside.
Munster: Paul Warwick, Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Denis Hurley, Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Wian du Preez, Denis Fogarty, John Hayes; Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy. Replacements: Damien Varley, Darragh Hurley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Jean de Villiers.
USAP Perpignan: Jérôme Porical, Farid Sid, David Marty, Maxime Mermoz, Christophe Manas, Gavin Hume, Nicolas Durand, Perry Freshwater, Guilhem Guirado, Nicolas Mas (capt), Olivier Olibeau, Robins Tchale Watchou, Yoann Vivalda, Bertrand Guiry, Yannick Parent. Replacements: Marius Tincu, Jérôme Schuster, Kisi Pulu, Charles Geli, David Mele, Jean-Philippe Grandclaude, Philip Burger, Rimas Alvarez Kairelis.
Referee: Wayne Barnes