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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 19 January, 2020

3 key battles that will make or break Munster's Heineken Cup challenge

Rob Penney’s men would be delighted to repeat their four-try performance against Edinburgh in Limerick.

Munster's BJ Botha will be an influential figure.
Munster's BJ Botha will be an influential figure.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

THE CHANCES OF Munster winning Pool 1 are slimmer and tougher than John Joe Nevin after Owen Farrell kicked Saracens to victory over Racing Metro yesterday.

The route to the quarter-finals has been narrowed to securing a best runners-up slot.

Sarries should manhandle Edinburgh at home in their final pool match but Munster get to nibble today on a goose that is well and truly cooked.

Leinster provided Rob Penney’s side with the template to get four tries at Murrayfield last weekend. Munster are fielding a strong side and know an early score will make a world of difference.

Here are three key battles that should make or break Munster’s Heineken Cup hopes:

Pipe it down

Edinburgh are hoping for their best crowd of the season this afternoon but even if they managed to double their biggest gate [11,225 against Glasgow] Murrayfield would still be less than a third full. Adult tickets are on sale for £5 so that might hoover up a few fence-sitters.

Edinburgh hooker Steve Lawrie had nothing but praise for the loyal core of home fans and vowed to give them something to ‘get their teeth into’ against Munster.

An early try would be just the tonic for Munster but building up early scores should act as double deflation for Edinburgh and their supporters. Shutting down try-machine Tim Visser is vital for this battle to be won.

Boss the back row

The best contest on offer will be in the back row, with the Munster trio of Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell and James Coughlan up against Stuart McInally, Dimitri Basilaia and Dave Denton.

Denton is one of Edinburgh’s three stand-out stars [the others being Visser and Greig Laidlaw] but he will have his hands full coming with the snarling duo of O’Mahony and Coughlan.

O’Donnell has been in fine form in recent weeks and is growing in confidence with each start. If the Munster back row can exert their dominance, supply quick ball and punch some holes up the middle, the backline has enough class to join the party.

Let Ronan work his magic

The Ian Keatley lobby has been out in force this week and, while the arguments for a change are strong, Ronan O’Gara has been in decent form this season and has delivered enough in the past to be worth the punt.

Munster need to employ more off the shoulder runners to vary their backline attacks and if James Downey and Keith Earls scream loud enough it should cause Ben Cairns and Matt Scott some problems.

Route one will also be employed and that means smart, tactical kicking into the corners and lineout disruption. Munster have excelled at stealing lineout ball and securing attacking throws [when they are straight].

O’Gara is the man to put them into the danger zones. A first try from the outhalf since April 2010 would certainly be welcomed too.

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Patrick McCarry

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