Munster To Kick Some Clermont Ass
Munster are back in European Champions’ Cup action versus French giants, Clermont.
Munster were slow starters in the Pro12, losing two of their opening four matches, but a morale-boosting 34-23 victory over Leinster kick-started their season and they haven’t looked back, with five consecutive victories that have taken them to the top of the table. They’ve also won both of their European Champions Cup games, against Sale and Saracens, to take command of Pool One.
After a strong start domestically which saw them win six of their first seven in the Top 14, Clermont’s campaign has begun to falter. They’ve lost three of their last five, including surprise defeats to Bordeaux and Bayonne and an important defeat against key rivals Toulon last weekend. They’ve also lost one of their two European Champions Cup games, handing Munster the Pool One advantage.
Munster have an lengthy injury list that includes Donnacha Ryan, Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Keith Earls, Cian Bohane, James Cronin and Eubesio Guinazu, and they will be without Donncha O’Callaghan who received a two week sanction for allegedly kicking an Ulster opponent. There’s better news on centre Andrew Smith, who is making a good recovery from his knee problem, and back row forward Robin Copeland, who took part in some training on Tuesday.
Clermont’s injury problems are not as severe as Munster’s, but they do have doubts over scrum half Morgan Parra, who has a twisted ankle, and Viktor Kolelishvili who is suffering from a knee injury, though may travel to Ireland.
Head to Head
Clermont have the edge in the head to head record, having won three of their five encounters, and two of their last three.
Their last meeting in the Pool stages of the European Cup came in the 2008-09 season. Clermont won the first game 25-19, but Munster won the return 23-13 at Thomand Park and went on to reach the semi-finals.
But their most significant match came eighteen months ago at the semi-final stage of the Heineken Cup, a game played in Montpelier. Ronan O’Gara gave the province the lead, but Clermont soon took control to lead 13-3 at half-time, and held off Munster’s second half challenge to reach their first European Cup final.
Munster are badly weakened by injuries at the moment, but they showed their resilience to battle to a hard-won victory over Ulster at the weekend and I think they can do the same against Clermont on Saturday. The French side are experienced European campaigners and they will be desperate not to slip too far behind in Pool One, but they are still to entertain both Munster and Saracens, and will be confident of beating both on French soil.
Away from home, they are far less formidable, and five of their six defeats this season have come on the road.
Munster’s seven consecutive wins gives them the momentum going into this game and they can cover a four point handicap. Back Munster -4 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.