Munster braced for a backlash from French champions

Murray expecting to face a far more ‘passionate’ Castres side this time around

Castres Olympique v Munster, Stade Pierre Fabre (5.30, Irish time, live on BT Sport)

A bristling rivalry, occasionally biting in aggression, is as much a product of the frequency with which Castres Olympique and Munster have met in the Champions Cup (15) as any latent dislike between players or clubs.

There was a bit of chat, players advising each other to relocate to other parts of the pitch, some gesticulating towards the scoreboard and the, not unfamiliar in rugby terms, push and pull when bodies converge to remonstrate about some sleight or transgression.

It'll add some spice to Saturday evening's game as Castres try and restore a reputation that was tarnished by their abject performance in Limerick last weekend. It was truly awful and professional pride alone would demand considerable redress in application and execution.


After all, Castres are the reigning French Top 14 champions, a heartwarming tale of a team with few marquee names that took to the road to overcome the financial heft and playing resources of more illustrious rivals en route to a memorable triumph.

That seems aeons ago. This season, Castres have lost five of 11 matches in the Top 14, their best performance a victory in the backyard of their neighbours Toulouse in round six, the most disconcerting, a home defeat last time out against 12th placed Agen.

Europe hasn't provided much solace either, one win in three matches and an ultimatum heading into this evening's match that only a victory will suffice.

Castres head coach Christophe Urios has made seven changes and a positional switch; the shorthand version is that most of the bench from last week will be in the run-on team.

There's a new front row as part of five alterations to the pack while Rory Kockott and Martin Laveau come in at scrumhalf and wing respectively.

It might be a little bit of a misnomer of describe games between the teams as a rivalry as Castres have won just three of the 15 matches and none of the last eight. The two sides drew 17-17 in last season’s corresponding fixture; Munster have eight returning starters from that match to six from Castres.

Munster coach Johann van Graan has made just one change to the starting team from Limerick with Joey Carbery, a late withdrawal on the day of the game, returning at outhalf in place of JJ Hanrahan, whose 20 points earned him the man-of-the-match accolade.

The Kerryman drops to the bench to the exclusion of Tyler Bleyendaal while tighthead prop Stephen Archer is fit again after illness and he takes over from Ciaran Parker amongst the replacements. Both teams would have pored over the post-match analysis to look for chinks that can be exploited second time around, even allowing for changes in personnel.

Passionate team

Johann van Graan explained: “Obviously it’s a double header so one team does one thing and another team does another thing to counter it, so I think both teams will look at some technical things and see how they can outwit the opposition again. The good or the bad thing is that you only have five days to do it and two training sessions; I guess it is who does it the best.”

Lions and Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray who will make his 120th appearance for Munster neatly summed up the essence of what the Irish province can expect.

“They are a passionate team; big set piece, big lineout maul, scrum game and they are going to be probably a little bit hurt especially scrum-wise from last weekend. We are expecting a backlash and that’s the challenge that we have this week.”

The Munster players won't care unduly how feisty it gets on the pitch, led by their admirable captain, Peter O'Mahony but they won't want to become embroiled in anything counterproductive to winning the match. It's unlikely referee Wayne Barnes will allow anyone to step outside the laws unpunished. He's a very strong official and a good communicator.

As Murray outlined, the set piece platform will be important and to depower the home side even slightly will make the visitors’ job easier.

Castres, one presumes, will be a little bit more interested in hanging onto the ball rather than kicking it aimlessly for the most part. It’s hard to gauge what attacking shape or patterns they’re likely to adopt based on last week.

Munster must match their hosts’ physically up front, be aggressive in the collisions, in the tackle and in literally carrying the game to Castres, while maintaining a high tempo.

Thereafter it’s about control at halfback and exploiting the pace and guile in the three quarter line. They’ll want to replicate what they accomplished in the second half rather than the torpor of the opening 40 minutes in Limerick last weekend.

A victory would go a long way towards propelling the Irish province towards the quarter-finals and that’s within the ambit of the team.

CASTRES: S Spedding; M Laveau, T Combezou, F Vialelle, T Paris; B Urdapilleta, R Kockott; P Fa'anunu, K Firmin, M Clerc; T Lasselle, L Jacquet; Y Caballero, M Babillot (capt), M Vaipulu. Replacements: M A Railler, A Tichit, W Hounkpatin, C Samson, K Gimeno, R Ebherson, A Batille, L Radosavljevic.

MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, S Arnold, R Scannell, K Earls; J Carbery, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; T Beirne, B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), C Cloete, CJ Stander. Replacements: K O'Byrne, J Loughman, S Archer, F Wycherley, A Botha, A Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, J Taute.

Referee: W Barnes (England)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer