Munster braced for testing quarter-final against Edinburgh
Joey Carbery returns as Johann van Graan makes 11 changes to squad that beat Zebre
Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue in action against Andrea Lovotti of Zebre in their victory last weekend at Thomond Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final preview
Edinburgh v Munster
On TV: Live on Virgin Media TV, Channel 4 and BT Sport
Munster, past masters at this quarter-final stage, have landed for their latest battle in Edinburgh very much locked and fully loaded, with a huge battalion from the Red Army there to roar them on.
In welcoming back his Irish front-liners, including Joey Carbery, and making 11 alterations from last week’s win over Zebre, Johann van Graan has made just one change from the starting side in the pool finale against Exeter, with Jack O’Donoghue preferred to Chris Cloete in the absence of Tommy O’Donnell. Indeed, otherwise it’s even the same 23, which given 10 of the starting team played in the Six Nations, is remarkable.
By contrast, Richard Cockerill opted to run out the bulk of Edinburgh’s frontline team for last week’s win over Leinster, save for shifting Darcy Graham to full-back and starting winger Damien Hoyland, centre Chris Dean, hooker Stuart McInally and lock Grant Gilchrist. Similarly though, all but two started their pool finale win over Montpellier.
As Cockerill has admitted, this is a meeting of like minds and spirits.
Edinburgh’s pack is effectively the Scottish pack, with the addition of South African loose-head Pierre Schoeman and big-carrying, off-loading Fijian number eight, Bill Mata, who would make most international back-rows.
With Hamish Watson back fit and also, as of last week, John Barclay in addition to James Ritchie, who is on the bench, they have backrow options aplenty. Add in McInally and Schoeman, and they have threats over the ball everywhere.
Under Cockerill, Edinburgh are constructed on the firmest of foundations in their set-pieces, kicking game and defence. They have probably got the best scrum Munster could come across in this competition.
Ala Saracens, they kick to chase rather than contest, put pressure on the opposition’s breakdown and look to win turnovers.
They don’t play a huge amount of creative rugby, but hold the ball, and have a very effective pick-and-go game through their forwards. They tend to wait for the right time to go wide through outhalf Jaco van der Walt, with a contrasting cutting edge in the forceful Duhan van der Merwe and the pace and footwork of Graham. That said, Blair Kinghorn is a big loss.
Munster need to keep their heads, deal with Edinburgh’s kicking game and set-pieces, and limit their poachers at the breakdown, in which case they perhaps have more of a creative spark in their backline.
Despite the often vast swathes of empty seats in Murrayfield – admittedly not a concern today – Edinburgh have won 17 of their last 19 European ties here and all but one game this season, when contriving to lose from 17-0 up against Cardiff. No matter the size of the Red Army, they too are also sure to be inspired by a record quarter-final attendance in the UK.
Munster also have their own poachers, none better than Tadhg Beirne, with support from Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and co. In what is likely to be an attritional arm wrestle, one can envisage plenty of collisions and turnovers, and a high penalty count and cards.
Only two teams conceded more penalties than Munster in the pool stages, almost 11 per game, and no team kicked more penalties than Edinburgh (16).
In last week’s Pau-Montpellier Top 14 game Pascal Gauzère brandished two red cards and when asked what might be the key today, van Graan immediately said: “Discipline. They play a very suffocating game, as do we. Discipline both sides of the ball and then, for me, the two teams are evenly matched so it comes down to big-time players stepping up.
“You just have to refer to the quarter-final last year,” added van Graan in reference to Munster’s win over Toulon. “I still see that moment in front of my eyes: Andrew Conway steps up and one player is the difference between two quality, matched sides. It might be the same this weekend.”
EDINBURGH: Darcy Graham; Damien Hoyland, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Duhan Van Der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally (capt), WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata.
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Previous meetings: (2012-13) Munster 33 Edinburgh 0. Edinburgh 17 Munster 26. (2013-14) Edinburgh 29 Munster 23. Munster 38 Edinburgh 6.
Results so far: Edinburgh – L 15-22 v Montpellier (a), W 40-14 v Toulon (h), W 31-13 v Newcastle (h), W 21-8 v Newcastle (a), W 28-17 v Toulon (a), W 19-10 v Montpellier (h)
Munster – D 10-10 v Exeter (a), W 36-22 v Gloucester (h), W 30-5 v Castres (h), L 12-13 v Castres (a), W 41-15 v Gloucester (a), W 9-7 v Exeter (h).
Leading try scorers: Edinburgh – Blair Kinghorn, Chris Dean, Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Stuart McInally 2 each. Munster – Joey Carbery 3, Andrew Conway, CJ Stander, Rory Scannell 2 each.
Leading points scorers: Edinburgh – Jaco van der Walt 65. Munster – Joey Carbery 68.
Betting (Paddy Power): 11/8 Edinburgh, 16/1 Draw, 4/6 Munster.
Handicap odds (Edinburgh + 3pts) 10/11 Edinburgh, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Munster.
Forecast: Munster to win.