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06th Dec 2014

David Wallace: Munster can take control of Champions Cup by shell-shocking Clermont

Anthony Foley's men owe the French side one for nicking a nail-biter in 2013

David Wallace

Many of the players that met four times between November 2007 and January 2009 will still be involved in Saturday evening’s clash

Apart from the 2013 Heineken Cup semi-final defeat, Munster and Clermont have shared the spoils of their European clashes. We beat them out the gate (36-13) the first time we met, in 2007, but lost the return match.

We got off to an awful start at Stade Marcel Michelin and trailed 20-3 just before the break. We got back into it but had left ourselves with too much to do. That was our only European defeat that season as we went on to win the Heineken Cup. We lost away to them the following season but took care of them at home.

They are a team that take the Champions Cup seriously. They have ambitions in Europe and have demonstrated their drive by reaching the final and semi-final in the last two seasons. They have already lost to Saracens, though, so Munster will be eager to get the win, claim the bonus point and send them home with nothing. If they can, Clermont’s interest in the competition may wane somewhat.

If Munster can shell-shock them at the start, get some early scores and keep their defensive discipline – as Ireland have shown this year – they will plant the seeds of doubt in Clermont minds.

It will be extremely difficult to win down there, next weekend, but Munster know they have to leave with something. The bonus points could be the deciding of who wins this pool as each team looks like they will take points off each other. A second place team in this pool may not advance so it is all about finishing top. We finished level with them at the top in the 2007/08 season, and the losing bonus we picked up against them in France was exactly what sent us through to the quarter finals.

Munster’s current winning run of seven games has included three fantastic away wins. These seasons and campaigns are all about momentum and it is best to time your run for when it really counts.Things are going well with Anthony Foley and his coaching staff. His style of coaching benefits the players. He is an incredibly honest guy so the players will know exactly where they stand. It was always going to be tumultuous at the start but they set their sights on the Leinster game and didn’t hold back. That win has sparked their season.

Ian Keatley 28/11/2014

The spotlight is on Ian Keatley this week after his missed kicks against Ulster. Still, I cannot see Axel going with anyone else at No.10 other than Keatley. He is a confidence player so perhaps going up to Ireland camp and not playing all that much rugby over three weeks. He looked good in his cameo against Georgia and will be keen to put any doubts to bed with an early shot at the posts.

Things are definitely looking up for Munster. Their great start in the Champions Cup led to more Ireland call-ups. Now that players like Dave Kilcoyne, Simon Zebo, Felix Jones and Dave Foley have done well in November, they come back into Munster camp with confidence soaring. Joe Schmidt had initially went with the Leinster lads when he took over at Ireland but the Munster boys are now up to speed and know what is expected on them.

To have the other lads keeping up that winning run helps, especially against an Ulster team that had arrived at Thomond Park looking for their third win in a row there. The Saturday evening (5:30pm) kick-off is beneficial to Munster and should lead to a charged atmosphere.

The Thomond factor is off-set in one way by the fact that guys like Julien Bonnaire, Jamie Cudmore and lethal winger Naipolioni Nalaga have played there before and will know what to expect. The flip-side is the fact that they have come to Limerick twice and lost. A good start is crucial.

General view of the players during training 1/12/2014

Leinster have a lot of their internationals back too and a lot of their play will go through Ian Madigan, another player who will take a lot out of that Guinness Series. Rob Kearney is playing excellently, Devin Toner had a monster couple of games and players like Mike Ross, Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath were part of an Irish pack that emerged from the Test series with a lot of credit. Rhys Ruddock took his chance at openside with both arms, and legs, and both he and Jamie Heaslip’s work-load was immense.

I expect Leinster to emerge from their double-header with Harlequins in good shape. Ulster should also have the beating of Scarlets in their two encounters. They were unlucky not to beat Munster and have some real talent, like Stuart McCloskey and Stuart Olding, coming through. If they can get Ruan Pienaar fit and ready for both games they should give themselves a fighting chance for January.

I would not write Ulster off yet. They are more than capable of throwing a spanner in the works and beating Toulon away from home next month.

*This column was first posted on Thursday, December 4

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