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Thomond torment awaits Saints

Munster v Northampton Saints, THOMOND PARK, TONIGHT (LIVE SKY SPORTS 1, KO 8.0)

It is just made for one of those Munster nights when the visitors don't know whether they are being bombarded by thunder from the sky or from the most fervent supporters in the game. Surely, the occasion, the English opposition and Munster's unparalleled desire to maintain their exalted standing in Europe are the right ingredients for an 11th straight season in the knockout stages.

Northampton showed they were no mugs by, eh, mugging a second-string Perpignan for a crucial bonus-point try in the last play of the game at Franklin Gardens. There is composure there.

Whether they have the all-round strength in depth to do what only Leicester Tigers have done in Europe, beat Munster at Thomond Park, is an entirely different matter.

However, The Saints are two points off the lead in the Premiership and the same slim margin off Munster in Pool 2 of the Heineken Cup. They will bring a young, fearless group of players to Limerick.

For Munster, the same commitment and game plan that blitzed Perpignan and Benetton Treviso should be enough to earn a home quarter-final.

In addition, it could just be that coach Tony McGahan has found his best centre pairing in a rejuvenated Jean de Villiers

(pictured) and the improving Keith Earls with Lifeimi Mafi looking out of sorts. Springbok De Villiers' finer attributes as a team player are in stark contrast to Mafi's have-a-go-first inclination to test the immediate line of defence. It can also give those in the wider channels, like Earls, quicker ball in greater space. p Verdict: Munster

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, J de Villiers, D Hurley; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; W du Preez, D Fogarty, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Wallace.

Northampton Saints: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana; S Geraghty, L Dickson; S Tongauiha, D Hartley (capt), E Murray, I Fernandez-Lobbe, J Kruger, C Lawes, P Dowson, R Wilson.


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