Munster vs. Castres @ Thomond Park
Saturday 14th January (15.40) Sky Sports 1
A bonus point for Munster on Saturday would secure qualification for the quarter-finals. While the Scarlets could still mathematically finish level on points with Tony McGahan’s side, Munster have a better head-to-head record with the Welsh side, meaning they would qualify in that situation. McGahan insisted this week that he has not given thought to a bonus point and expects a tough encounter.
McGahan has gone for exactly the same match day 23 who secured a bonus point 29-11 win over Treviso last weekend. Keith Earls will continue his resurgence after injury in the 13 jersey. Donnacha Ryan once again gets chosen ahead of Donncha O’Callaghan in the second-row. Niall Ronan has recovered from the knee injury he sustained while scoring last weekend. He’s joined in the back-row by James Coughlan and Peter O’Mahony.
Castres are out of the tournament already and have left some of their bigger names at home , including Chris Masoe and Joe Tekori. Pierre Bernard is at outhalf, as he was when Munster narrowly beat Castres in Toulouse in Round 2. He was good with the boot that day so Munster will have to be disciplined. Wing Pierre-Giles Lakafia scored that day too and the French Sevens international can be dangerous in space.
This should be a routine win for Munster. Castres are playing for pride alone and have left key players out of their squad. While they should not be underestimated, Munster are clear favourites. Paul O’Connell spoke this week about his disappointment with the missed opportunities even when scoring four tries against Treviso. If Munster can be a bit more clinical, they should record a facile win.
Munster:15 Denis Hurley, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O’Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Niall Ronan, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Subs: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Billy Holland, 21 Tomas O’Leary, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Danny Barnes.
Castres: 15 Romain Martial, 14 Vincent Inigo, 13 Paul Bonnefond, 12 Pierre-Manuel Garcia, 11 Pierre-Gilles Lakafia, 10 Pierre Bernard, 9 Thierry Lacrampe, 8 Jannie Bornman, 7 Steve Malonga, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Matthias Rolland, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau.
Subs: 16 Mathieu Bonello, 17 Michaël Coetzee, 18 Karena Wihongi, 19 Scott Murray, 20 Ibrahim Diarra, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Seremaia Bai, 23 Matthieu Nicolas.
Toulouse vs. Connacht @ Stade Ernst Wallon
Saturday 14th January (15.40) Sky Sports 1 (red button)
After a poor effort against Aironi resulted in their 13th consecutive loss last weekend, Connacht now have to travel to take on one of the form teams in Europe. Toulouse are the leaders of the Top 14 as well as Pool 6. The French outfit need a big win in this fixture and they’ve named what looks like their strongest side. Connacht have made all the right noises this week about ensuring they’re competitive. They also hope to have around 500 of their own fans travelling to Toulouse.
Eric Elwood makes three changes to the team that disappointed against Aironi last time out. Paul O’Donohoe replaces the injured Frank Murphy at scrumhalf, meaning ex-Leinster and Harlequins youngster Dave Moore is included on the bench. Niall O’Connor comes back into the team at outhalf after Matthew Jarvis was given a chance there in the last two weeks. The only other change sees Ray Ofisa into the back-row in place of Mick Kearney.
The Toulouse team looks extremely strong on paper. Luke McAllister is recalled at outhalf despite the superb form of Lionel Beauxis in recent weeks. Thierry Dusautoir captains the team at openside and he’s joined by a host of his fellow French internationals including Maxime Medard and William Servat. Sprinkbok prop Gurthro Steenkamp returns at loosehead.
Another difficult day is in store for Connacht. It would be one of the greatest upsets in Heineken Cup history if they were to end their losing streak in Toulouse. All they can do is keep working hard and learning from encounters like this one. Even though Connacht restricted them to three tries at the Sportsground in round 2, Toulouse will be confident of recording a bonus point victory on their home patch.
Toulouse: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Yann David , 12 Florian Fritz, 11 Timoci Matanavou, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Louis Picamoles , 7 Thierry Dusautoir (capt.), 6 Jean Bouilhou, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Census Johnston, 2 William Servat, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Yohan Montes, 19 Grégory Lamboley, 20 Jean-Marc Doussain, 21 Lionel Beauxis, 22 Clément Poitrenaud, 23 Shaun Sowerby.
Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt.), 14 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 13 Kyle Tonetti, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Tiernan O’Halloran, 10 Niall O’Connor, 9 Paul O’Donohoe, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Dylan Rogers, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke 17 Denis Buckley 18 Stewart Maguire 19 Mick Kearney 20 Eoin McKeon 21 Dave Moore 22 Miah Nikora 23 Henry Fa’afili.
Glasgow Warriors vs. Leinster @ Firhill
Sunday 15th January (12.45) Sky Sports 2
Leinster can secure their quarter-final place with a win in Glasgow. The Warriors are six points adrift of Leinster coming into this game while Bath and Montpellier are out of the running in Pool 3, four points further back. Glasgow are fighting for survival in the competition so they will make it extremely difficult for Leinster.
Joe Schmidt has made just three changes to the starting fifteen which won in Cardiff last weekend. Shane Jennings is back at openside meaning Kevin McLaughlin drops out of the match day squad. Captain Leo Cullen is back in the second-row with Damian Browne making way. Isa Nacewa comes in on the wing for Andrew Conway, with Rob Kearney continuing as first-choice fullback.
Glasgow coach Sean Lineen has made ten changes to the side which narrowly lost 16-14 away to the Scarlets last weekend. Chris Cusiter and Duncan Weir form the half-back partnership while Rory Lamont comes in at fullback. Stuart Hogg comes into the centre and Colin Shaw is back on the wing. Up front, the likes of John Barclay, Ally Kellock and Richie Gray are welcomed back to what looks like Glasgow’s strongest available team.
It’s not going to be easy for Leinster. Glasgow will be hopeful of a final push for a quarter-final place. A good start will be important for the Irish province. Allow Glasgow to get on top and they will thrive on it. Schmidt won’t care how it comes about if his side can get another vital win on the road.
Glasgow: 15 Rory Lamont, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Stuart Hogg, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 Colin Shaw, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 John Barclay, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Alastair Kellock, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Ed Kalman, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 John Welsh.
Subs 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Ryan Grant, 19 Tom Ryder, 20 Johnnie Beattie, 21 Colin Gregor, 22 Troy Nathan, 23 Scott Wight.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Fergus McFadden, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Leo Cullen, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Heinke Van der Merwe, 18 Nathan White, 19 Damian Browne, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Eoin O’Malley.