Munster v Castres: Five changes as Champions Cup game at Thomond Park goes ahead

A host of European games have been postponed but the Reds take on the French side at Thomond Park this Saturday
Munster v Castres: Five changes as Champions Cup game at Thomond Park goes ahead

Munster rookie Patrick Campbell starts again this weekend. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

WHAT has already been an incredibly eventful week for Munster climaxes on Saturday evening with a must-win Heineken Champions Cup encounter against old foes Castres at what should be a rocking pre-Christmas Thomond Park.

It's one of the games given the go-ahead by authorities this weekend, with all the matches between French and English teams postponed.

Fresh from the minor miracle that was the comprehensive bonus point victory over Wasps last Sunday, achieved with 34 players unavailable due to Covid issues, the Munster squad then heard, only 48 hours later, that head coach Johann van Graan would be departing the club at season’s end.

Oh, and Joey Carbery is crocked again.

Munster have made five changes to the side that won against Wasps, though former Cork minor football star Patrick Campbell has retained his place.

MUNSTER: P Campbell; A Conway, C Farrell, D de Allende, K Earls; B Healy, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O’Mahony (c), J Hodnett, J O’Donoghue.

Subs: D Barron, J Wycherley, K Knox, J Jenkins, J O’Sullivan, C Casey, J Crowley, A Kendellen.

Despite the van Graan and Carbery revelations the mood has to be upbeat in the camp after last week’s win in Coventry.

Munster were able to field nine internationals last weekend but had to lean heavily on a huge number of academy and even uncontracted players in order to not only fulfill the fixture but to win it. 

It was one of those matches that will be referenced for years given the circumstances and hopefully will have acted as a catalyst to springboard Munster to bigger and better things in the New Year.

FOCUS

The manner of the victory was certainly unexpected, but Munster must capitalise on it now, as ultimately if they can garner one of the top two spots in Pool B then it should make a potential run to the semi-final, and possibly beyond, much easier, as this would effectively give Munster home draws up until the last four stage at least.

This must be the season goal now. Wasps are likely to be well out of the competition by the time they come to Limerick, while this weekend’s opponents Castres are effectively out of it already after losing their opener at home.

Castres lost to Harlequins at the Stade Pierre-Fabre on Sunday evening, after fielding a weakened side, meaning that they did not even follow their usual formula of picking a strong side at home and then a weakened one on the road. 

They are currently in a battle for one of the play-off spots in what looks a red-hot Top 14 championship this year, and all eggs have been rather crudely thrown into that domestic basket.

Therefore, we can confidently say that no matter what team Munster fields on Saturday evening they will be winning this one.  The only issue will be as to whether they can secure a four-try bonus point.

Obviously, the South African contingent came home in two separate batches, with 14 players and staff members only arriving home in recent days, so any players who were part of that group will be unavailable this weekend, but the majority of the first bunch who returned are now well out of quarantine and are available to play.

Carbery’s elbow fracture means he will be on the sidelines again for some time which will offer opportunities for Ben Healy, who starts this weekend, Jack Crowley and Jake Flannery 

The injury to Carbery is obviously a major blow, as he seemed to be just getting back up to speed again, but it could actually end up being a blessing in disguise, for both Munster and Ireland, as three young out-halves now get a chance to put their hands up for starting positions going forward. 

This is going to be an extremely interesting watch over the next few months.

While all the youngsters rightfully got a lot of praise for their efforts last week, realistically only a few will be considered for selection in the coming weeks. 

We'll be interested to see how Campbell, Daniel Okeke, John Hodnett and Scott Buckley develop over the short-term. 

Daniel Okeke, and James French during Munster Rugby squad training. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Daniel Okeke, and James French during Munster Rugby squad training. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Both players took their chance and should be rewarded with more game time in the next few weeks and months, although given that so few Munster players have played any rugby in the last few months it will be extremely difficult to keep everyone happy.

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