Mun­ster up against it as they face in-form Ex­eter

Prov­ince likely to strug­gle against English team that have won last six games

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RUGBY | HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP - Johnny Watterson

Pool Two Ex­eter Chiefs v Mun­ster Sandy Park, to­day, 3.15pm Live on BT Sport 2

A cou­ple of weeks ago Le­in­ster coach Stu­art Lan­caster ran through the rel­a­tive strengths of sides in each of the leagues that sup­ply the Heineken Cham­pi­ons Cup. The English Premier­ship had two clubs and the rest are chas­ing.

Mun­ster’s op­po­nents to­day are one of those. Along with Sara­cens, Ex­eter’s win­ning arc is steeper and they have al­ready put dis­tance be­tween them­selves and the oth­ers.

The Devon club have won six from six open­ing games and se­cured five bonus points to top the ta­ble ahead of Sara­cens on points dif­fer­ence. Third-placed Wasps are a fur­ther 10 points back.

Every­thing seems primed for a home win with Mun­ster miss­ing Conor Mur­ray and with Dan Gog­gin in mid­field mak­ing his Cham­pi­ons Cup de­but. All Blacks scrumhalf Alby Mathew­son pick­ing up a knee in­jury in the Le­in­ster clash at the Aviva Sta­dium was another dev­as­tat­ing in­jury, Dun­can Wil­liams slot­ting in there with out­half Joey Car­bery.

Heavy favourites

The home side are heavy favourites with the book­ies and are priced at 2/7 with Mun­ster at 11/4 to come away with a win and the draw 20/1.

The Mun­ster backs are clearly lighter than they could be with ob­vi­ous ex­cep­tions in the form of play­ers Ki­eth Earls and An­drew Con­way as well Car­bery and former Eng­land Saxon Mike Ha­ley at full­back. What team wouldn’t love a Chris Far­rell in their cen­tre in this dog fight?

Ex­eter also have the word legacy in their think­ing, which only comes from a club that has been built up or­gan­i­cally and largely with­out the in­flux of in­ter­na­tional su­per­star play­ers from abroad.

But the Mun­ster pack is a strong one with Tommy O’Donnell mak­ing way for the ar­rival of Chris Cloete, who joins Peter O’Ma­hony and CJ Stander. They are backed up by strength in the sec­ondrow with Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne con­tin­u­ing their part­ner­ship and an un­changed fron­trow of Dave Kil­coyne, Niall Scan­nell and Stephen Archer.

Dount

There is one un­usual doubt hang­ing over Ex­eter, more in the mind than any­where else. Ten months ago they went into a big home Euro­pean clash with Le­in­ster on the back of play­ing some sparkling rugby against Bath. But they failed to back it up against the Ir­ish prov­ince in the first of their De­cem­ber dou­ble-header. Ex­eter coach Rob Bax­ter is aware of that kink in their mind­set from last sea­son.

“I have said to the play­ers, when they look back to the home game with Le­in­ster last sea­son, we went into that match off the back of a very good per­for­mance against Bath – prob­a­bly our best per­for­mance last sea­son in some ways – and we were pretty ram­pant in that game,” said Bax­ter this week.

“Then, I think we rolled into the Le­in­ster game think­ing ‘we are on form here and we’re go­ing to be fine’ – when ac­tu­ally you need to stop some­times and get the emo­tional recharge back into you that you are go­ing to have to go out and bat­tle and fight.”

Pro­moted

Fol­low­ing last week’s win over Bath, the sole change from Bax­ter sees Ian Whit­ten, the 31-year-old from Lis­burn capped for Ire­land dur­ing the 2009 sum­mer tour, pro­moted from the bench to part­ner the gifted Henry Slade in the cen­tre.

Another in­ter­est­ing pick is 34-year-old Gareth Steen­son, who schooled with Tommy Bowe in the Royal School Ar­magh. The out­half con­tin­ues to build a ca­reer around be­ing told he’s not good enough. He cap­tains the side at out­half.

Ex­eter are still with­out 23-year-old back­row Sam Sim­monds, who in­jured knee lig­a­ments in Septem­ber and is likely to be out for most of the sea­son. He re­mains a big loss.

Mun­ster will go at Ex­eter and cru­cially chal­lenge them up front.

But the home side’s re­lent­less phased play and ruth­less scor­ing should rep­re­sent a chal­lenge sim­i­lar in breadth to Le­in­ster last week in Aviva Sta­dium.

Chris Cloete joins Peter O’Ma­hony and CJ Stander in the Mun­ster pack

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