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'It's cup final rugby from the first pool game' - O'Mahony loves Europe's do-or-die nature

Munster take on Clermont in what is basically another must-win game.

The Munster pack has been dominant in the Champions Cup so far.
The Munster pack has been dominant in the Champions Cup so far.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

BY TRIMMING THE fat from the Heineken Cup, its successor is not only leaner, but also more competitive. The pools are tougher and more concentrated, which is why three of last year’s semi-finalists – Clermont, Saracens and Munster – are all grouped together with poor Sale.

In such a hotly contested pool, one loss – especially at home – could spell the end of your European ambition. The three heavyweights have all held home court up to now, which makes the visit of Clermont to Thomond Park a borderline must-win for Munster.

Their captain, Peter O’Mahony, is certainly treating the visit of the mercurial and fragile French behemoth as if it is a knockout game.

“European rugby has gotten so competitive now,” O’Mahony said.

“It has almost gotten to the stage where it is cup final rugby from the first game, which is a bit bizarre. That is the way you’ve got to take it.”

Clermont are the team many Irish fans enjoy watching the most after their province and they have had some memorable clashes against Munster at Thomond Park over the years.

Those games – both won by Munster – exposed Clermont’s vulnerability in pressure situations but O’Mahony doesn’t think their unblemished home record against the visitors counts for much this weekend.

“It is irrelevant on Saturday at half five,” O’Mahony said.

“Saturday is all we’re worried about. They are a hugely competitive side. Even when they are not going well they have guys on their team who can punish you from every part of the pitch. They have some fabulous individuals and when they are going forward they are very difficult to stop. It is always a bit fiery and neither team wants to give an inch but those are the games you want to be involved in.”

Munster’s head coach, Anthony Foley, has a wealth of European experience and was part of Munster sides that regularly humbled more talented teams at Thomond Park. O’Mahony says he is benefiting from having such a battle-hardened back row in his ear on a day-to-day basis.

“It is great for me to have Axel involved with his knowledge of the back row,” O’Mahony said.

“He is doing a bit more coaching now than shouting and roaring and that is great. He has been there and done it and he knows what it takes.”

O’Mahony will have to keep an eye on Clermont’s roving out-half Camille Lopez, who had a strong November series for France. Lopez offers a more stable option than Australian Brock James and Anthony Foley is wary of the threat posed by the international ten.

“In the November series he was very good against Australia,” Foley said.

“He ran the show for them and he is not your stereotypical French out-half. He has a bit more structure to his game and he puts them in the right areas to launch their attacks from.”

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