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Heineken Cup Preview: Munster and Connacht in Heineken Cup action

Updated: Saturday, 11 Jan 2014 18:19 | Comments

Munster look to record another away win in the Heineken Cup
Munster look to record another away win in the Heineken Cup

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By Brendan Cole

Munster face the type of trip to England they have come to relish over the years, and with the prospect of wrapping up the pool and qualifying a week early on the cards, they won't lack motivation.

It is rarely easy to win away from home against English clubs but Gloucester are struggling in the Aviva Premiership, where they are in ninth place with just four wins.

They do have talent behind the scrum with England squad out-half Freddie Burns, Billy Twelvetrees and Charlie Sharples all potential threats.

But it is up front that Munster will expect to do some damage against a Gloucester pack that has been vulnerable this season.

The BJ Botha-anchored scrum and the carrying of the likes of Dave Kilcoyne, Paul O’Connell, Tommy O’Donnell and James Coughlan are perfect weapons for testing the home side's mettle. James Downey, back in the side at inside-centre, gives Munster another ball-carrier capable of examining Gloucester’s appetite.

Conor Murray

Conor Murray’s return at scrum-half is also a major positive, while Ian Keatley will be looking to redeem himself after a poor performance in last week’s defeat against Ulster at Ravenhill. JJ Hanrahan is waiting in the wings and has a chance to become the number one out-half in the province soon after some excellent outings this year.

There is a sense that Munster’s backline will need to find the next level if they are to be a factor at the sharp of this tournament, but there is time for them to come good there. This weekend, the pack should be able to deliver the goods.

Connacht will expect to add a third win to their tally in Pool Three when they take on Zebre at the Sportsground. Qualification for the quarter-final is out of reach even if the westerners can finish with two wins in their last two games, but Connacht could claim a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup if they can win against Zebre and do the same against Saracens in London next week.

Unlikely but, given their heroics in Toulouse, not impossible.

It would be easy to dismiss that win in France as a flash in the pan, but Connacht have shown good form over the last six weeks or so without getting the results they arguably deserve.

Despite results not going their way, Pat Lam deserves credit for sticking with the same young, all-Irish qualified backline that started against Leinster. As with last week, it will be interesting to see how Jack Carty goes at out-half.

Up front, the return of openside Jake Heenan to the starting line-up is a boost, though Connacht will miss neck-injury victim Craig Clarke’s influence at the heart of the pack.

Dan Parks and Gavin Duffy are among those in reserve should experienced hands be needed to steady the ship at any stage, but that should not be necessary against a moderate Zebre selection.

Heineken Cup predictions:

Gloucester 12-18 Munster
Connacht 21-6 Zebre

Gloucester Rugby: Martyn Thomas; Charlie Sharples, Jonny May, Billy Twelvetrees (c), Shane Monahan; Freddie Burns, Dan Robson; Yann Thomas, Darren Dawiduik, Sila Puafisi, Elliot Stooke, James Hudson, Matt Cox, Matt Kvesic, Gareth Evans

Replacements: Huia Edmonds, Dan Murphy, Shaun Knight, Tom Hicks, Sione Kalafamoni, Tavis Knoyle, Rob Cook, Ben Morgan

Munster Rugby: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony (c), Tommy O'Donnell, James Coughlan

Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Donncha O'Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Simon Zebo

Connacht: Darragh Leader; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffinm, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Nathan White, Mick Kearney, Andrew Browne, John Muldoon (captain), Jake Heenan, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, George Naoupu, Paul O'Donohoe, Dan Parks, Gavin Duffy

Zebre: G Palazzani; G Toniolatti , K Ratuvou, G Garcia, D Berryman; L Orquera, A Chillon; M Aguero, D Giazzon, D Chistolini, Q Geldenhuys (capt), G Biagi, F Ferrarini, D van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa,

Replacements: T D'Apice , A de Marchi, D Ryan, M Bortolami, N Cattina, R Quartaroli, R Trevisan, D Odiete.

Live radio coverage of Castres v Leinster on Heineken Cup Special from 12.30 on Sunday 12 January on RTÉ 2fm and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide). 

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