Botha blow as Munster put their season on the line in Tigers' lair
Published 19/12/2015 | 02:30
The absence of BJ Botha, who suffered a concussion in last Saturday's Thomond Park meeting, could dramatically shift the balance of power in Leicester Tigers' favour tomorrow evening.
The South African's absence pits Munster's third-choice tighthead prop John Ryan against arguably the best loosehead in the world in Leicester's Marcos Ayerza and unless the 27-year-old Corkman steps up to the plate his team will be in trouble.
The scrum will be a key battleground as these two European heavyweights of old go head to head for the second time in eight days and, if the English side sniff blood, they can cause all sorts of damage in the set-piece.
While the scrum will be a concern for Anthony Foley, the primary focus for the Munster coaching staff will be their first-up tackling after porous defence undermined some good work with the ball last time out.
Certainly, Ian Keatley knows that he needs to bounce back from last weekend's poor showing and the subsequent fallout that has seen him dragged through the mud all week. His predecessor Ronan O'Gara delivered on this turf nine years ago and it would be timely for him to do the same.
Replacing Botha with Ryan, bringing Mark Chisholm into the second-row for Dave Foley and replacing Niall Scannell with Mike Sherry are the three changes for the visitors, while Leicester bring Peter Betham and Freddie Burns into their backline but leave their forward pack unchanged.
That's where this game will be won, with the breakdown offering the biggest opportunity to Munster, who began brilliantly there last week, but then fell off.
If they can secure good ball, their attack looked dangerous at Thomond and they caused plenty of problems for the Tigers. However, the hosts will look to dominate the tight exchanges, will seek a greater influence from Kiwi groundhog Brendon O'Connor and hope to bring their dangerous backs into the equation as much as possible.
It is up to Munster to smash them back and not allow them get on the front-foot and release their speed out wide.
"There was a few system errors, there was a few one-on-one tackles that should have been finished off. Just put your head in a place and finish off the tackle," Sherry said.
"Get the systems right, we go through it enough during the week, we know our roles well enough. When it comes to the heat of the battle it might be harder, but lads if they don't get it right, they won't get a chance. Lads have to prove themselves and get it right this week."
That's the key. Win and suddenly Munster's season becomes open to possibility. Lose and they extend their run without a win to four and join Leinster in the doldrums.
Verdict: Leicester Tigers
Leicester Tigers - T Veainu; A Thompstone, P Bethan, M Smith, V Goneva; F Burns, B Youngs; M Ayerza, T Youngs, D Cole; M Fitzgerald, G Kitchener; E Slater (capt), B O'Connor, L McCaffrey. Reps: H Thacker, M Aguero, F Balmain, D Barro, T Croft, S Harrison, T Bell, S Bai.
Munster - A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; J Cronin, M Sherry, J Ryan; M Chisholm, D Ryan; R Copeland, D O'Callaghan, CJ Stander (capt). Reps: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, M Sagario, D Foley, J O'Donoghue, T O'Leary, R Scannell, LG Amorosino.
Ref - J Garces (France).
Leicester Tigers v Munster, Welford Road,BT Sport, 5.15