Date: Saturday 8th October
Kick off: 17:45
Venue: Madejski Stadium
Top of the Aviva Premiership, Irish have started well, but now they will have to find another level. Their win over Newcastle was impressive but against Leeds they were sloppy in defence. Irish know that they can beat the best teams after winning against Leinster in Dublin last year, and they will need all of that belief if they are to be successful this weekend. Moreover, if they don’t win this first game against Munster, then their chances of progressing will be all but shattered.
The Red Machine rolls into Reading having lost to Leinster last weekend in Dublin. In all honesty, whilst a blow, this should not affect Munster too much going into this weekend. The Heineken Cup is their competition; it is impossible to think of the tournament without Munster’s name coming to mind. They will see the game against Irish certainly as a tough one, but also one they can win.
What to expect:
Every example of why the Heineken Cup is the best club competition in the world. It is a mouth-watering tie between two of the best sides from their respective countries: London Irish with all their attacking flair, and Munster with their hard-edged, confrontational style. Irish will hope for a packed out stadium and a buzzing home support, and for dry weather. If it’s wet then Munster should have the edge.
All eyes on:
Bob Casey faced Munster many times in his Leinster days, but this is his first time in the colours of London Irish. For so long discarded by the Ireland set-up, he will relish going up against Donnacha O’Callaghan. Although no longer captain, he is Irish’s heart and soul, and no player will give more on the pitch than him this Saturday.
For Munster, if he is back fully fit as he appears to be at the time of writing, Keith Earls could prove to be the key component in opening up the Irish defence. His pace and swerve will have them always guessing, and he is a huge threat.
Head to head: Ryan Lamb v Ronan O’Gara
There are countless ones I could have chosen, here are some examples: Mapusua v Earls, Tagicakibau v Howlett, Dermody v Hayes.
But it will be in the key position of fly-half where this game is won and lost. Pool three will showcase the exceptional talents of Dan Biggar, O’Gara, and some guy called Jonny Wilkinson. For Ryan Lamb, it will be his biggest challenge, but one which could make him as a player. Toby Booth often describes him as an enigma, but he will need to be calm and composed against the tournament’s record points scorer.
If Munster are the rulers of the Heineken Cup, then O’Gara is its King. He is not getting any younger, and so will be desperate to make the most of his remaining chances to win the tournament one more time. Their duel should be fascinating.
Weather forecast: Sun during the day and a clear sky at night. If it stays dry, then expect Irish to throw everything in the direction of Tagicakibau, Ojo and Armitage.
Munster have so much experience in this competition, they live and breathe the Heineken Cup. For them, nothing is more important. That hunger and belief is what has seen them be so successful over the years. Even without the talismanic Paul O’Connell, they still have enough wise old heads and threats to conquer any team.
But I just wonder if they’re slightly underestimating what Irish can do. With a group full of such big teams, (Toulon and the Ospreys making up the rest), Irish come across as the minnow of the group. And it might be this slight oversight that gives the home team the edge. If Irish can get ahead, then they will have to stay ahead. There is no holding on against great sides like Munster. Can they do it? As a long-term supporter, I can only pray. IRISH BY 3!
By Ben Coles