MUNSTER’S HEINEKEN CUP campaign kicks off at Murrayfield this afternoon against an Edinburgh side who have struggled badly in the opening five rounds of the RaboDirect Pro12.
However, back to full strength with an XV that includes nine Scottish internationals, Alan Solomons’ men will be focused on securing their first win of the season.
We’ve picked out three of the key positional head-to-heads that we think will have an influential effect on the outcome of the game.
Simon Zebo v Tim Visser
While the two exciting wingers won’t be lining up directly opposite each other, their try-scoring threat will be crucial for their respective teams. Zebo has been finding his feet in the early stages of the season and hasn’t scored in three games, but the Heineken Cup is likely to bring out the best of him.
The 23-year-old has a more rounded skill set than Visser, and his habit of coming off his wing will make him a real handful for the Edinburgh defence. While Visser has a weaker kicking game, less creativity and is not as strong a one-on-one tackler as Zebo, he is a pure and unrivalled finisher.
Leading try-scorer in the Pro12 for the past four seasons, the Scottish international has already notched two in his first three appearances of the season. Munster’s best tactic to stop the 26-year-old from scoring would be to limit the amount of possession that Edinburgh work wide. An aggressive rush defence might be the answer.
Verdict: Zebo to kick-start his season with a try, but Visser also to get on the score sheet with a powerful reminder of his world-class attacking prowess.
Mike Sherry v Ross Ford
Sherry in action against Edinburgh in round one of the Pro12. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
Not the most glamorous of head-to-heads, but the battle at hooker will be as vital as ever. Munster have the players to do damage in attack, provided they get quality first phase possession to work with. Sherry’s more reliable throwing gives him an edge over Damien Varley, and Rob Penney will expect him to deliver in that regard.
It is around the pitch where the 25-year-old must prove his ability if he hopes to push on for further international honours. Varley offers breakdown threat from the bench, but Sherry has the skills to contribute more in attack. The Limerick man’s direct opponent at Murrayfield is Scotland international Ross Ford.
At his best, the former Border Reivers man is a shining example of what hookers can add to their team’s attacking play. During Edinburgh’s run to the 2012 Heineken Cup semi-finals, Ford was an offloading machine. More importantly against Munster will be the 29-year-old’s ability to lead the physical confrontation.
Verdict: Sherry to put in another effective 60 minutes, providing slick service at the lineout, before making way for the bustling Varley. Ford to fight a losing battle as Edinburgh go backwards.
James Downey v Matt Scott
Downey faces a testing time against Scotland international Matt Scott. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
This head-to-head features two players at very different points in their careers. 32-year-old Downey spent five years in England with Northampton before earning a move to Munster and winning his first Ireland cap. In contrast, 23-year-old Scott already has 15 international appearances to his name and looks set to remain a fixture of Scotland’s midfield for much of the next decade.
Downey is a reliable presence at centre for Munster, getting them over the gain-line whenever he carries and producing powerful defensive efforts from time to time. His directness offers a complimentary balance to the footwork of Casey Lualala outside him.
Scott is a slightly different player, and certainly less dependent on power to do damage in attack. At around 96kg, he is no shrinking violet but his handling skills offer Edinburgh options to play in wide channels. The centre performed superbly at the Quadrangular Tournament in South Africa during the summer.
Verdict: Scott may find the pace tough to handle on what will be his first start of the season, and Downey’s size will be a threat. The Munster man to prove the more effective 12.
Edinburgh team: Jack Cuthbert; Douglas Fife, Nick De Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser; Harry Leonard, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox, Dimitri Basilaia, Cornell du Preez, David Denton.
Replacements: Aleki Lutui, Lodewicus Blaauw, Geoff Cross, Ollie Atkins, Roddy Grant, Sean Kennedy, Joaquin Dominguez, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
Munster team: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, Donncha Ryan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Paddy Butler, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Damien Varley, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.
Where do you see this game being won and lost for Munster? Which are the key head-to-heads at Murrayfield? Let us know your thoughts on the Pool 6 clash in the comments section…
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