NORTHAMPTON hooker Dylan Hartley refuses to be intimidated by Munster's fearsome reputation at Thomond Park and says the Saints are ready to "take them on" when the teams lock horns this Friday, WRITES HUGH FARRELLY.
Munster hold a two-point advantage at the top of Pool 1 after both teams recorded bonus-point victories last weekend and Friday's final pool game promises to be a ferocious Anglo-Irish struggle for Heineken Cup quarter-final qualification.
Northampton will attempt to emulate Leicester Tigers' feat of three years ago, who remain the only team to have defeated Munster in a Heineken Cup match at the famous Limerick stadium.
It is a big ask, with bookmakers already rating the two-time champions as 1/5 favourites but Hartley, the Northampton captain and one of their stand-out performers in their 34-0 win over French champions Perpignan at Franklin's Gardens last Sunday, believes the occasion will bring the best out of the 2000 champions.
"Yes, definitely we can take them on," said the New Zealand-born England international. "Everyone knows who Munster are and what they can do. We've just got to treat this as though it's our last game. We'll go out there and play, and we have to win it.
"Heineken Cup rugby is special. When you take on sides like Perpignan and Munster it's as close to an international as you'll get. They're massive teams and massive occasions."
Hartley's coach Jim Mallinder, although unhappy about the five-day turnaround, is equally bullish ahead of Friday's encounter.
"We are on a good run and playing well. You mustn't be intimidated by Munster," he said.
"What we have to do is go there and stand head to head and toe to toe with them."