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Botha vital to Munster hopes

MUNSTER v NORTHAMPTON SAINTS, Thomond Park, Saturday, KO 6.0

Never has one man been so crucial to the outcome of a match. Springbok BJ Botha (pictured) has already shown his value by instantly transforming Munster's powder-puff scrum into a force to be reckoned with in the PRO12 League.

This is another matter entirely as Northampton bring their vaunted eight to do battle on the hallowed turf of Thomond. It was this single area that almost denied Leinster their second Heineken Cup last May.

The Saints front row is one of the most formidable scrummaging units in Europe. They have earned this reputation as much for the illegality of what they do as for the power and technique of it.

Tight-head Brian Mujati loves nothing better than to drive across on the angle and into the neck of the hooker, while Soane Tonga'uiha drives upwards into the chest of the opposing tight-head.

Knowing what is coming is one thing, stopping it is quite another. As Leinster's Cian Healy discovered last Friday, Botha offers a different type of challenge on the engagement.

If Botha can anchor the scrum, Munster can secure a solid platform to launch Conor Murray and the cleverly angled kicks of out-half Ronan O'Gara.

Verdict: Munster