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Bad-tempered defeat will be in Munster's memory for this visit to Castres

The French club have been in good form in the Top 14 but have heavily rotated their team.

A scrum when Munster last visited Castres in 2018.
A scrum when Munster last visited Castres in 2018.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE LAST TIME Munster were in Castres was an ill-tempered and unhappy affair as the French side ground out a 13-12 win a week after taking a good beating in Limerick. 

Wayne Barnes was the referee at Stade Pierre Fabre that day back in December 2018 and he struggled to keep a grip on things. Two Castres players were cited afterwards, with Rory Kockott banned for three weeks for an eye gouge on Chris Cloete and hooker Marc-Antoine Rallier picking up a one-week suspension for a late tackle on Peter O’Mahony.

Munster will hope tonight’s clash in Castres [KO 8pm Irish time, BT Sport] is cleaner – referee Luke Pearce will be key – but they will be expecting a ferociously competitive encounter. While Johann van Graan has selected a strong, experienced team for this trip to France, he will be cognisant of the potential for a slip-up.

Castres will do their utmost to draw Munster into a slow-paced arm wrestle on their home patch and while the Irish province often excel in the confrontational elements of the game, van Graan’s side must show some attacking cutting edge too.

The Top 14 side made a battle of things in Thomond Park last month in the first of their Champions Cup pool-stage meetings with Munster, who missed a crucial try-scoring chance in the first half and were unable to completely shake off the visitors thereafter.

Still, Munster are favourites for this tie. Their starting XV features 13 Ireland internationals including the returning duo of Keith Earls and Conor Murray, who missed last weekend’s stirring comeback win over Ulster due to personal reasons.

munsters-jack-crowley Crowley starts at 10 for Munster.

The other two players in the Munster team are 24-year-old lock Fineen Wycherley and 22-year-old out-half Jack Crowley, the latter of whom is set for his first start in the Champions Cup.

Joey Carbery and Ben Healy are missing due to injuries so Crowley gets his shot a week after starting against Ulster, when he showed flashes of his instinctive quality as well as making a few errors in the tough conditions. There is real excitement about Crowley’s potential and he should benefit from the experience around him.

Damian de Allende is absent through injury, meaning the consistent Rory Scannell starts at inside centre, while promising youngsters like Thomas Ahern and Alex Kendellen miss out on the matchday squad and the impressive back row John Hodnett has to settle for a place on the bench.

Captain Peter O’Mahony is fit to lead Munster after withdrawing from the Ulster game due to suffering a leg strain during the warm-up and he will combine with Gavin Coombes and Jack O’Donoghue in a back row that should be a key strength for Munster.

Castres will have their hands full but they should also be bouncing after three consecutive wins in the Top 14 against Perpignan, Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle, and then Stade Français last weekend, that string of results lifting them up to third in the table.

That said, this is a very different Castres team to the one that beat Stade Français. Head coach Pierre-Henry Broncan has made wholesale changes to his team, with out-half Ben Botica the only player backing up from last weekend.

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loic-jacquet-is-tackled-by-dave-kilcoyne Castres captain Loic Jacquet is tackled by Dave Kilcoyne last month. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Castres have lost both of their games in the Champions Cup so far, being pipped at home by Harlequins in the first round and then coming up short on a 19-13 scoreline away to Munster.

While it appears that Castres’ interest in the competition has already dwindled despite two competitive performances, Munster will be going into tonight with the mindset that the French side are fighting to stay alive and nothing comes easy at Stade Pierre Fabre.

Castres:

  • 15. Thomas Larregain
  • 14. Antoine Zeghdar
  • 13. Thomas Combezou
  • 12. Pierre Aguillon
  • 11. Filipo Nakosi
  • 10. Ben Botica
  • 9. Santiago Arata Perrone
  • 1. Antoine Tichit
  • 2. Brice Humbert
  • 3. Antoine Guillamon
  • 4. Loic Jacquet (captain)
  • 5. Jack Whetton
  • 6. Mateaki Kafatolu
  • 7. Simon Meka
  • 8. Baptiste Delaporte

Replacements:

  • 16. Pierre Colonna
  • 17. Julius Nostadt
  • 18. Matthew Tierney
  • 19. Ryno Pieterse
  • 20. Hugo Hermet
  • 21. Rory Kockott
  • 22. Louis Le Brun
  • 23. Bastien Guillemin

Munster:

  • 15. Mike Haley
  • 14. Andrew Conway
  • 13. Chris Farrell
  • 12. Rory Scannell
  • 11. Keith Earls
  • 10. Jack Crowley
  • 9. Conor Murray
  • 1. Dave Kilcoyne
  • 2. Niall Scannell
  • 3. Stephen Archer
  • 4. Fineen Wycherley
  • 5. Tadhg Beirne
  • 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
  • 7. Jack O’Donoghue
  • 8. Gavin Coombes

Replacements:

  • 16. Diarmuid Barron
  • 17. Jeremy Loughman
  • 18. John Ryan
  • 19. Jean Kleyn
  • 20. John Hodnett
  • 21. Craig Casey
  • 22. Jake Flannery
  • 23. Shane Daly

Referee: Luke Pearce [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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