Monday 22 January 2018

Munster under pressure in home Heineken Cup tie: visiting coach

Munster training session ahead of their Heineken Cup clash with Northampton
Munster training session ahead of their Heineken Cup clash with Northampton

NORTHAMPTON boss Jim Mallinder believes Munster will be "under pressure" to deliver a result in tomorrow's Heineken Cup clash between the teams at Thomond Park.

But Mallinder insists there is an identical degree of expectancy surrounding the Saints as they target making a flying start to their European campaign.

Leicester are the only English club to have toppled Munster on home soil in a Heineken Cup game.

Northampton tried twice - and failed - during the 2009/10 season, losing in the pool stage and quarter-finals, and Saints' degree of difficulty has not diminished.

"There has been a step-up in training this week, and we've needed it," Mallinder said.

"The Heineken Cup games are of a higher intensity than the league, and we've got to make sure we play at that intensity when we go across to Munster.

"Munster will go into the game knowing that they can beat anybody, especially at Thomond Park, which is a fantastic arena with a terrific atmosphere.

"Winning your home games is crucial in the Heineken Cup, and Munster will be under pressure to get a result, but we're putting ourselves under the same pressure and we want the win as well.

"We are going into the game in good spirits after our recent run of results.

"Our team has a bit more experience than it has in the past, and hopefully we will be able to put the lessons of the past into practice on Saturday."

England quintet Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood all feature in the Northampton line-up, but two major Munster selection surprises see lock Donncha O'Callaghan and back-row forward Denis Leamy relegated to replacement duty.

London Irish kick off their campaign against Madejski Stadium visitors Edinburgh tomorrow, knowing they cannot afford to drop points at the outset in Pool One, a group that also includes Cardiff Blues and French challengers Racing Metro.

"If you want to progress out of the group stages in this competition you have to win your home games, starting tomorrow," Irish head coach Toby Booth said.

Leicester, struggling in the Aviva Premiership, begin another European season tomorrow, albeit on unfamiliar territory.

The Tigers tackle Pool Four underdogs Aironi at Stadio Brianteo in Monza, the 95th different venue to stage Heineken Cup rugby.

Geordan Murphy skippers a side showing three changes from the team held at home by Irish last weekend, with wing Niall Morris, centre Andy Forsyth and prop Dan Cole all starting.

Forsyth replaces Horacio Agulla, who suffered a hand injury in the Irish match and joins Mathew Tait, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Allen and Billy Twelvetrees on Tigers' current list of absentees.

Holders Leinster, minus an injured Brian O'Driscoll, begin their title defence with a tricky assignment in Montpellier tomorrow, and skipper Leo Cullen admitted: "It will be a really tough opener.

"Montpellier had an unbelievable home record in the Top 14 last year, and they were within 10-15 minutes of beating Toulouse in the French final.

"It is almost a given that in the Heineken Cup you have to win your home games, so you ask yourself where you are going to pick up an away win.

"It is tough to see where that can come from, although we will have an opportunity straight away against Montpellier."

In tomorrow's other games, Pool One dark horses the Scarlets host Castres, Ulster entertain Pool Four opponents Clermont Auvergne and Pool Five heavyweights the Ospreys and Biarritz clash at Swansea's Liberty Stadium.

The Scarlets encounter sees a Heineken Cup debut for Wales wing George North, a World Cup star in New Zealand who returns to regional duties alongside colleagues like Stephen Jones and Scott Williams.

"I guess it is a bit strange that I have played in the World Cup and Six Nations for Wales, but not in the Heineken Cup," North said.

"I guess it's not the normal order to do things.

"But as a player you want to test yourself at every level, and this is the closest you can come to playing international standard without pulling on the national jersey.

"There is a great tradition in the competition for the Scarlets, and that is an inspiration to us all."

Press Association

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