How the sides compare
Just one change for Munster from Sunday’s 30-5 Thomond Park victory over Castres as Johann van Graan selects a fitagain Joey Carbery to start at fly-half. Carbery, signed from Leinster during the summer, has a tough act to follow given he is replacing last week’s try-scoring man-of-the-match JJ Hanrahan, who has to settle for a place among the replacements. Munster and Ireland supporters will have the chance to see the 23-year-old Carbery partner scrum-half Conor Murray in a provincial half-back combination for the very first time this evening. This will be Murray’s fourth appearance of the season, having made his comeback from a neck injury last month against Zebre. It will be the Ireland star’s 120th Munster appearance since his 2009 debut. The rest of the team is unchanged, with Sammy Arnold again deputising for the injured Chris Farrell at outside centre, while tighthead prop Stephen Archer returns to replace Ciaran Parker as the back-up for starter John Ryan, having recovered from an illness.
Coming to the boil
Van Graan has named a side as close to full strength as he dared imagine for a pivotal match in the Heineken Champions Cup pool campaign - only injured duo Chris Farrell and Jean Kleyn likely to have been automatic starters in midfield and at lock respectively. Yet this is a Munster squad on a roll right now, unbeaten since their October 6 league loss at Leinster and on top of Pool 2 heading into Round Four with a threepoint lead over Gloucester.
Castres make seven changes to the side which went down to Munster in Limerick six days ago, including an all-new front row. After being dominated at scrum time in round three, the French champions have promoted their replacement trio to starting roles. The pack is further altered in the back row, with captain Mathieu Babillot the only survivor of the Thomond Park defeat, albeit switching flanks to the openside as Kevin Gimeno drops to the bench from where Yannick Caballero is elevated to a starting berth at blindside. It is all change at No.8 where Maama Vaipilu comes in as Alex Tulou is omitted from the matchday squad. There is also a key switch at scrum-half, where last week’s starting nine Ludo Radosavljevic is replaced by Sunday’s benchwarmer Rory Kockott. Limerick tryscorer Martin Laveau comes off the bench to start at home, swapping places with Armand Batlle. The dangerous South African centre Robert Ebersohn is also among the replacements.
For all the hype about Stade Pierre Fabre being a hostile environment, Castres Olympique have underperformed there. They’ve lost their last Top14 game at home, a 16-13 defeat to relegation contenders Agen a fortnight ago. Christope Urios’s side are without a win in their last six home ties against Irish opponents, though the numbercrunchers will note that each of those games, not least the draws with Leinster and Munster, were tight affairs in which the home side picked up match points.
Words: Simon Lewis