Dylan Hartley and his Northampton Saints travel to Limerick and Thomond Park Stadium more in confidence than hope believing they left a game behind them last time and determined to put that right on the occasion of the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup.
Their number 8 Roger Wilson believes that the the January visit leaves them well placed to advance to the semi-final in their continuing quest for Triple glory this season having already captured the LV trophy.
“The good thing for us,” he says,” is that we know what to expect going over to Thomond Park. Last game was close, 12-9, last time we went over. The atmosphere can get to you, sort of inhibits you from playing the way you want to play. Maybe stops you thinking at crucial times and you maybe go into your shell a little bit.
“We were guilty of that so this time we know what to expect and it’ll not affect us too much this time.”
Northampton’s stated ambition is to add the Heineken Cup and Premiership title to the LV trophy according to Wilson. “That’s the plan. I don’t see why we can’t do it. Just continue that winning mentality.”
However he does acknowledge that tomorrow’s game presents a huge challenge. “Munster have rightfully been the best team in Europe over the past five, six seven seasons. They’ve won Heineken Cup, Magners titles. They’ve only lost once in Thomond in the Heineken. That how difficult it’s going to be.
“But we believe we can do it if everyone of the squad gives absolutely 100%. plays a little bit more with the head this time and just as much heart.”
The Saints, second in the Premiership table, will be dealing from a full deck and content in the knowledge that they have the type of game that will take them through to the semi-final. This time around they prefer Stephen Myler to Shane Geraghty at out-half. Geraghty who did such damage in Franklin’s Gardens bore the brunt of the criticism for Saints’ defeat last time they visited.
For their part Munster will be under no illusions about the task they face on Saturday evening. In losing the away Pool game, in the early stages, they made Northampton look fairly awesome but then came back to almost snatch victory. In the return, at Thomond Park in January, the English side led them a merry dance for long periods, but like others before them, most recently ASM Clermont Auvergne, they paid for being able to put the team in red away.
Munster will know that they have to cut out the errors and lower the penalty count that has cost them dearly in recent games.
They’ll know too that they will need to reproduce the sort of performance that they delivered in Perpignan if they’re to see off what is going to be a massive challenge.
Munster: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Jean de Villiers, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes; Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell capt; Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, James Coughlan. Replacements: Damien Varley, Julien Brugnaut, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Nick Williams, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Lifeimi Mafi.
Northampton Saints: Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Jon Clarke, James Downey, Bruce Reihana; Stephen Myler, Lee Dickson; Soane Tonga’uiha, Dylan Hartley capt, Euan Murray; Courtney Lawes, Juandre Kruger; Phil Dowson, Neil Best, Roger Wilson. Replacements: Brett Sharman, Regardt Dreyer, Brian Mujati, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Mark Easter, Alan Dickens, Shane Geraghty, Joe Ansbro.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).