Munster bolster forward ranks for ‘spicy’ clash with Castres

Ben Healy named at outhalf following injury to Joey Carbery

Ben Healy starts at outhalf for Munster in Saturday night’s Heineken Champions Cup game against Castres at Thomond Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Heineken Champions Cup: Munster v Castres, Thomond Park, Saturday, 8pm – Live on BT Sport

As the Covid storm clouds gather, Munster’s biggest crowd at Thomond Park since the derby against Leinster in December 2019 this weekend should provide a rapturous homecoming for their returning heroes from last weekend’s inspirational win away to Wasps.

All but the injured Joey Carbery of their nine internationals who constituted the spine of last week's starting line-up are retained, as is the 19-year-old academy fullback Patrick Campbell and the promising openside John Hodnett.

As expected, Johann van Graan has reinforced the Munster tight five in a bid to muscle up for the anticipated challenge from the Castres pack.

Niall Scannell, John Ryan and Jean Kleyn all come into the tight five, with Jack O'Donoghue recalled at number eight, while Ben Healy starts at outhalf in Carbery's absence for what is probably the biggest game of his fledgling career.


The bench has been entirely changed, with five players set for their European debuts, namely hooker Diarmuid Barron, prop Keynan Knox, outhalf Jack Crowley and academy backrow forward Alex Kendellen, as well as Jason Jenkins.

The once-capped Springbok is named in a matchday squad for the first time and set for his Munster debut after joining the province last summer.

Castres have made seven changes compared to the starting line-up from last week’s 20-18 defeat by Harlequins at home. Bastien Guillemin comes in on the wing, with Uruguayan scrumhalf Santiago Arata preferred to Rory Kockott, who is on the bench.

Props Wayan de Benedtittis and Wilfird Hounkpatin, the 36-year-old veteran Loic Jacquet and the backrowers Simon Meka and Kevin Kornath are all restored to the pack.

No two teams have played each other more often in the history of the competition than Munster and Castres and some of the meetings have underlined the old truism about what familiarity breeds.

As Johann van Graan noted in midweek: “We’ve had some spicy games against Castres if you think about our last one we played there, I think we lost 13-12. The previous one at Thomond Park was a brilliant rugby game. This will be an Irish/French affair and it will be spicy. It’s two teams that know each other very well in Europe.”

That’s putting it mildly.

This will be the 17th clash between the pair, with Munster having won each of their seven home games against Castres in the tournament by an average margin of 22 points.

Furthermore, Castres have lost each of their 12 away games in Ireland in the tournament, and all bar one of them by a margin of more than 10 points, and by an average margin of 23 points.

Accordingly, Munster have been made a whopping 24-point favourites, yet this potentially exacting game against opponents who remain true to type in their typically cussed, niggly way, comes just six days after a patchwork side played as if there was no tomorrow.

Climbing such emotional heights again after such a massive win can be difficult, which is why the call-ups for Scannell, Ryan, particularly Kleyn and O’Donoghue should both refresh the side and beef up the pack for what is liable to be a confrontational battle up front.

MUNSTER: Patrick Campbell; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Ben Healy, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O'Mahony (capt), John Hodnett, Jack O'Donoghue.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Josh Wycherley, Keynan Knox, Jason Jenkins, Jack O'Sullivan, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Alex Kendellen.

CASTRES: Thomas Larregain; Bastien Guillemin, Thomas Combezou, Pierre Aguillon, Filipo Nakosi; Benjamin Urdapilleta, Santago Arate; Wayan de Benedittis, Paula Ngauamo, Wilfred Hounkpatin; Loic Jacquet, Theo Hannoyer; Nick Champion de Crespigny, Simon Meka, Kevin Kornath.

Replacements: Brice Humbert, Julius Nostadt, Antoine Guillamon, Jack Whetton, Mateaki Kafatolou, Rory Kockott, Louis le Brun, Antoine Zeghdar.

Referee: Matthew Carley (England)..

Head to head: P16, Munster 11 wins, 1 draw, Castres 4 wins.

Betting: 1-80 Munster, 70-1 Draw, 22-1 Castres. Handicap odds (Castres + 24 pts), 4-5 Munster, 19-1 Draw, evs Castres.

Forecast: Munster to win.