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'We're Munster, they'll want to have a go at us' -- Murray leads rejuvenated side to take on Sharks

Despite a shaky start to the season, Munster are favourites on their opening European road trip.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE CHAMPIONS CUP. A new dawn, a fresh start for elite European competition. It only seems right then, that Munster should be in the midst of their own revival at the same time.

Anthony Foley’s reign in his native province, very obviously, got off to a fairly rough start. Neither performances or results on the field did much to convince anyone outside of the squad that the notorious mis-sent e-mail had created a rift between disenfranchised players and click-happy management.

There’s nothing like a blue jersey and a Leinster harp to focus the mind, however. And Munster’s brilliant first-half performance in the Aviva already has the feeling of a season-changer.

That one 40-minute spell has done a better job of setting the record straight than any number of Garrett Fitzgerald press conferences that came before. Most importantly, the landmark victory in Dublin has instilled an enormous sense of confidence in the squad that, yes, Foley’s gameplan will take them where they want to go.

A lunchtime kick-off is not usually when European rugby is at its most fierce. Yet even against a struggling Sale Sharks outfit, come 1pm in Salford Munster’s leaders must ensure the side pitch themselves at a similar intensity to the level they imposed on Leinster a fortnight ago.

Paul O'Connell Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Over the past year, Conor Murray is a man that has grown to become every bit a leader within his province as Paul O’Connell or Peter O’Mahony.

It was Murray whose face most closely resembled thunder in the lacklustre home defeats, it’s Murray who leads by both word and deed on the field and it’s Murray who is demanding that his teammates deliver the required intensity so that in the Champions Cup they can quickly forge the same reputation his predecessors earned in the Heineken Cup.

“Everyone in the squad knows the importance of the European competition and you can feel that extra excitement during the week. You need to go up a level,” the Lions scrum-half said in Limerick this week.

“We’re Munster and they’ll want to have a go at us and get a big win because that could kick-start their season as well. We’re expecting them to come out all guns blazing and be really fired up for this one.”

Murray is of an era in Munster that could rarely take the camouflage of an underdog status into European fixtures. The favourites tag is one he can wear comfortably and today he will gladly accept that, even on the road, Munster should be winning games such as this one.

The odds have not been lost on Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond either, and he is ready to milk them for all it’s worth:

“Munster will be looking at us as the whipping boys and that’s exactly how I want it,” said Diamond before listing off the defeats inflicted on his side by Bath, Gloucester, Saracens and Northampton.

The Premiership club’s wins have both come on home turf — against London Welsh and Wasps. If they are to make it three out of four today they will look to Danny Cipriani to cause havoc in the Munster defence with the familiar face of Sam Tuitupou playing the role of wrecking ball.

General view of training Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Foley’s main selection quandary was how to balance the back-row. The answer he has come up with is to start CJ Stander at number eight with Robin Copeland forced to wait in reserve.

Indeed there is no shortage of impact subs available to Foley with James Cronin and BJ Botha ready to provide front row relief and the electric JJ Hanrahan and Gerhard van den Heever available to give the two-time Heineken Cup champions a leg-up in the new era of Champions Cup rugby.

Sale Sharks: Michael Haley; Tom Brady, Johnny Leota, Sam Tuitupou, Tom Arscott; Danny Cipriani, Chris Cusiter; Eifion Lewis-Roberts, Marc Jones, Vadim Cobilas, Jon Mills, Michael Paterson, Magnus Lund, David Seymour (capt), Mark Easter.

Replacements: Shalva Mamukashvili, Ross Harrison, Alberto de Marchi, Andrei Ostrikov, Josh Beaumont, Will Cliff, Joe Ford, Mark Jennings.

Munster: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Duncan Casey, Stephen Archer, Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony (c), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Eusebio Guinazu, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Robin Copeland, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Broadcaster: Sky Sports.

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Sean Farrell

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