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Munster Rugby V ASM Clermont Auvergne Sat 6 Dec 17:30. ERCC Pool game 3. Sky Sports

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  • Munster Rugby V ASM Clermont Auvergne Sat 6 Dec 17:30. ERCC Pool game 3. Sky Sports

    A December double header between the top team in the Pro12 and the second team in the Top14, notable also that both teams also made the last 4 of Europe the past two seasons. Munster are 2 from 2 so far in this competition whereas Clermont lost away to Sarries on the opening weekend. By 9pm Saturday we will be halfway through the pool stages, and hopefully continue to have our fate in our own hands.
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    Our Form


    A tale of 2 teams in many respects, but both achieving good results. We started sluggishly over in Sale and eventually figured out a way to get over the line-bar with the last kick of the game. Whereas we manhandled Sarries in Thomond Park a week later and got a good win without every achieving daylight between us and them. As for the league, well its 5 wins on the trot now, 3 of which on the road and sitting pretty in pole position.


    The margins have been fine in many of our games this season and we wouldn't be known for eviscerating sides, look at Sale, Blues and Ulster as prime examples of playing to the very last moments to snatch wins but overall it must be said that Axel has clearly established a ‘hard to beat’ aura about the team. Its been a great opening months after some bumpy times in the early days. Hard to beat is making them believe in themselves and the gameplan, which has led to less panicking on the field, irrespective of the scoreboard. There is a maturity and cohesiveness at the moment. We still have a team that might be considered ‘young’ by previous Munster standards, but we are very fortunate that we have some very good decision makers in the group now who are hitting their prime years. Basing the group around the 7 or 8 lads who returned from Ireland it is clear that this team could potentially go quite far and remain hard to beat. Theres a willful streak as wide as the province in the team again.


    Given we wont have seen the European/FirstVX together in red for nearly 6 weeks its hard to gauge how they will gel in the opening moments on Saturday, however, the game Ireland employed for the Autumn Internationals is akin to Axel’s Munster. Ireland got three wins off the back of a great territorial kicking game, a great maul setpiece, superb guiding halfbacks and a ruthless defensive effort, all together by a walking colossus in Paul O’Connell. Ask yourself how many of those winning attributes are available to Axel to lay into Clermont with? Munster this season is not unalike Schmidt’s Ireland team, some of Ireland’s best performers are our local lads: Paulie POM and Murray. There were no chances taken with selection for the Ulster game, and there will be a massive sense of urgency and focus to training all week now.


    Whilst Kidney had Munster in their pomp he had a canny knack of keeping the reigns short until around new years and then wham, we would open up for rounds 5 and 6 of the pool stages, Munster now have roughly 11 or 12 unterrupted games now before the 6 Nations, its the fattest part of our season so we need to be hitting top gear from the get go this Weekend.


    Seeing as how its been so long since we saw full strength Munster lets take a look at the likely lads and how they are doing at the moment. Beginning with the pack, it would be fantastic to see Cronin back fit as he can share the gargantuan workload that awaits Killer over 160 mins. Guinazu will hopefully be available to deputise for Casey in similar circumstances, he is a man mountain for a hooker and having spent time at 4 different french clubs he will be familiar with whats gonna be necessary to get the win. Reading Clermont supporters on here suggesting that Domingo and Zirakashvilli wont be available is good news for us.


    Doc is up in front of the citing commissioner so time will tell as regards the bench lock spot, would liked to have seen Copeland tried in the row during the Ulster game but his knee twang put paid to that. As for the starters, its Master and Apprentice, Foley had a fantastic November series for a newbie and the old man continues to defy the conventions and lead like some kinda superhero. Foley should be eyeing up that 4 jersey for Ireland, when he gets into that manic rucking machine mode he is like a Saffer crusher. Pater O’Mahony, what a splendid player he has blossomed into, its hard to describe how effectual he can be for a bloke who would be considered a smaller frame than most International backrowers. Succession planning going on with Paulie and him, hes the lynchpin of the squad and Captain for a reason. TOD cleaned more mucky situations and killed more ball in his few minutes than I had seen him do in quite some time, hes clearly worked on the dirtier parts of openside play. Stander is a man made for the big occasions, and Copeland is getting on our wavelength, hes also a very handy lineout jumper.


    Murray will hopefully have passed the concussion tests and can start, because he is vital to our chances over both legs. Imperative that his pack screen and protect him, the Clermont analysts will know he had a head injury lately and look to get in his face when possible. Keatley has gone from Man of the Match away in Newport to a very very loose and disjointed 80 mins against Ulster, what was good to see was his roaring Hurley out of it when a move broke down, hopefully we will see more of him marshaling his troops.


    Now to our centres, I think these two are kinda symptomatic of Axel’s team this season. Neither of them is a big name, neither of them is flashy but both of them work as a tandem for the other, in fact they work their arses off to cover one another if theres a mixup. They are greater than the sum of their parts, and Smith arrived with little fanfare but has done everything that is asked of him. He also looks to absolutely crush in the tackle when he gets the opportunity, I’ve been impressed.


    AS for wings, well its Zebo and either Conway or Gerhard, which is a great trio and full of attacking intent. Felix playing his best rugby in years, fearless and as good a housekeeper as Shaun Payne was when the set defense is beaten.


    Their Form.
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    Second in the Top14, theyve played 12 and won 8 in the league. Theyve lost 3 games on the road domestically and Montpellier beat them in the Marcel Michelin. With typical french disinterest in the away game they are W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L in their last 8 games, making it hard to gauge what kinda Clermont team will arrive to play in Thomond Park, nor whether their heads are in this game or moreso in the return leg. Nonetheless this will be a mouthwatering game of strategy across 160 mins of rugby.


    Their game is based on a MONSTER pack and at the very heart of it is a backrow division as hard working as any in this competition. Chouly is the club captain, but they have a kiwi wrecking ball at 8 in Fritz Lee, he takes a hell of a lot of stopping. The back row is a real treasue trove, Bonnaire, Bardy, Lapandry, Kolelishvili. Theyve quality in the secondrow too, Vahaamahina just turned 23, hes 6 foot 8 and nearly 20 stone, besides him they have Julien Pierre or our old buddy Jamie Cudmore. If Parra is fit he will pull the strings for them, he’s one of four Clermont players who played in the last RWC final, the man is like an orchestral conductor, the pack leave the decision making to him. Clermont also have Philippe Saint Andre’s current no. 10 in Camille Lopez, who played the vast majority of all 3 french autumn internationals. Lopez is a far more steady ship than Brock James.


    Centres are hard to call, two from Roguery-Fofana-J.Davies-Benson Stanley. Back three is absolutely lethal with the ball, Abendanon is like Felix or Bobert under the high ball. Wings are a division most countries couldn't amass: Guildford-Maize-Nakaitaci-Malaga, theres danger everywhere. When you look at their squad they’ve a first class XV and then another first class XV in reserve.


    The last time we locked horns with Clermont, was Rog’s swansong, from that team we have seen 5 lads move on or retire, but we have crucially lost another 4 to injury for this game - Earls, Ryan, Sherry and Varley. We’ve improved our squad since that day and many understudies have moved to the fore to take up the workload but this back to back is going to stretch us to our very limit. Jonno Gibbes was Schmidt’s right hand man during the good days in Leinster, and now he’s the right hand man in Clermont. He knows what and how to beat Munster and has done so in the past.


    Munster have the talent, the leadership, the gameplan and the support to win this weekend, its going to take a giant amount of effort from everyone but its doable.




    Things to watch out for


    Paulie and Casey sorting the linout again.


    Clermont back three running the ball back into supporting forwards and making good gains.


    Munster dictating the pace of this game, because when the pendulum swings in favor of the Clermont their power can become unstoppable.


    Take every point that is on offer off the tee and in Drop Goals if necessary, freeze Clermont out of the game.


    Wayne Barnes, lightning on breakdown laws, and doesnt allow too much of the ‘dark arts’ at ruck time. A very clinical referee and very communicative.


    Quotable and Notable


    Clermont are one of only 4 sides in Europe who have beaten us more than we have beaten them, we’ve played 5 and lost 3 times to them.
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