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Dublin: 19 °C Tuesday 22 July, 2014

3 key battles Munster must win to right the wrongs of Edinburgh

Rob Penney’s side lost their opening Heineken Cup game 29-23 in Murrayfield. It’s payback time.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

MATCHDAY ONE SEEMS an awfully long time ago now, doesn’t it?

When Munster went to Edinburgh and lost we feared a little for them, but here they are, already qualified and in the mix to bring some European action to Limerick in the spring.

You never back against them, the adage goes, and that goes doubly against the Scots today.Still, winning these three battles will go a long way to making certain they are not caught cold again.

Damien Varley v Ross Ford

There’s a lot riding on Damien Varley’s shoulders these days as the only senior hooker.

If Munster are to maximise their chances of earning a home quarter-final, then their search for a bonus point will begin at the set-piece.

If Varley can out-scrummage Ford then it will ensure Rob Penney’s side of the territory they need to probe for gaps.

And, as this fixture last season taught us, if things get tight the Garryowen man’s line-out throwing will be called upon to set up the more direct approach of rolling mauls.

Tommy O’Donnell v Roddy Grant

Hopefully, Munster won’t be forced to change tack late on. Grant will be out to spoil and slow service down for the hosts allowing the black defensive line to set and span across the pitch, so central to Plan A will be O’Donnell’s breakdown work and also his ability to break tackles and force the Scots to scramble onto the back foot.

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O’Donnell, centre, shares a joke with James Downey and Dave Foley. ©INPHO/James Crombie.

O’Donnell certainly won’t be short of motivation. With Sean O’Brien out of the equation, he’ll be desperate to prove he’s a viable challenger to Chris Henry in the openside role for Ireland.

Conor Murray v Greig Laidlaw

Unusually for Celtic nations, here are two sides who rely heavily on their scrum-halves for play-making and game management rather than simply asking them to feed the 10.

We’ve seen Murray thrive as more and more responsibility was thrust upon him, but Laidlaw too rises to each challenge. Edinburgh’s scrum-half carries considerably more pressure on his shoulders  as both a captain and goal-kicker.

Murray’s first task will be to keep Laidlaw out of kicking range, so he must hang his box-kicks where his chasers can challenge for them. In attack, the Lions nine has the ability and the vision to dictate this game if his  pack can create some regular ball for him.

Munster: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer, D Foley, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony (c), T O’Donnell, J Coughlan

Replacements: D Casey, J Cronin, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, P Butler, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo.

Edinburgh Rugby: J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, B Atiga, T Brown; G Tonks, G Laidlaw (c); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel, G Gilchrist, I Van Der Westhuizen; C Du Preez, R Grant, D Denton.

Replacements: A Lutui, L Blaauw, G Cross, O Atkins, T Leonardi, G Hart, C Bezuidenhout, J Dominguez.

Here’s why the Ospreys were reduced to 14 men against Leinster

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