Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
©INPHO/Billy Stickland O'Callaghan's efforts will be important tomorrow afternoon.
# Key Battles
Munster v Perpignan: Three crucial head-to-heads in Limerick
The Top 14 side are without some key men, but still have the potential to upset the Limerick crowd.

MUNSTER HOST THE unpredictable Perpignan in Pool 6 of the Heineken Cup tomorrow afternoon [KO 12.45].

Rob Penney’s men are flying high in the RaboDirect Pro12, while the Catalans are only ninth in the Top 14. The visitors have had to deal with several injuries and the suspension of Lifeimi Mafi, but they still have the potential to cut Munster apart.

A home loss would be disastrous, so Munster will need to ensure they are motivated and focused, the opposite of their mental approach last time out in the Heineken Cup against Edinburgh. Here are three of the key battles at Thomond Park tomorrow.

Felix Jones v James Hook

The Welshman is the star of this Perpignan side, and a crucial part of their game plan. Hook, the USAP captain, has been shifted to fullback this season by the arrival of talented out-half Camille Lopez. Despite that move, the one-time Osprey remains integral thanks to his goal-kicking and classy attacking contributions.

Opposite him is a man who may not be quite at the level some would have predicted for him at the age of 26. The main reason for that has been cruel injuries, but Jones has the ability to truly excel on the European stage. Against a Perpignan side who prosper in broken play, the former Leinster fullback’s superb defensive game is likely to be called into action.

Dave Kilcoyne v Paulica Ion

Perpignan’s back line are a danger, even without the likes of Mafi and Wandile Mjekevu, meaning that Munster will be determined to strangle their supply of possession at source. Kilcoyne will play a key part in that, both in the loose and at the set piece. If the 24-year-old is serious about returning to the international fold, this is the type of game he needs to dominate in.

imageKilcoyne has plenty to prove as he pushes for Ireland inclusion. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

Facing the Ireland international at scrum time will be Romanian lump Paulica Ion, Perpignan’s second-choice tighthead prop. Injury has ruled out Giorgi Jgenti, meaning former London Irish and Bath man Ion is tasked with tying down Munster’s set piece. This is a perfect opportunity for Kilcoyne to show his worth.

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Donncha O’Callaghan v Luke Charteris

The veteran Munster lock’s spoiling and defensive work rate will be important at Thomond Park, particularly as Perpignan like to play with width. O’Callaghan remains a master of choke tackling, counter-rucking, scrum-half annoying; he is an important presence in the tight and that’s where Penney’s side will expect to overpower USAP.

His opposite number is a different type of player, with Charteris standing out as a genuine line-out specialist. Head coach Marc Delpoux asks his men to play off the top of the line-out regularly, meaning the Welshman’s jumping ability will be vital. O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell will look to deny Charteris the freedom of the air in Limerick.

Munster: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony (Capt.), S Dougall, J Coughlan.

Replacements: D Casey, J Cronin, BJ Botha, B Holland, CJ Stander, C Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, D Hurley

Perpignan: J Hook (Capt.); J Michel, T Benvenuti, W Votu, S Guitoune; C Lopez, T Ecochard; S Taofifénua, R Terrain, P Ion; L Charteris, G Vilaceca; JP Perez, A Strokosch, J Purll.

Replacements: M Delonca, K Pulu, JB Custoja, S Vahaamahina, D Duvenage, T Allan, R Haughton, D Leo.

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