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Dublin: 3 °C Saturday 19 April, 2014

Three battles Munster must win to reign supreme in Perpignan

A bonus point win came handily in Limerick last weekend. The return match should prove a tight affair.

CJ Stander (dropped for this weekend's match) and Paul O'Connell celebrate at Thomond Park.
CJ Stander (dropped for this weekend's match) and Paul O'Connell celebrate at Thomond Park.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

WITH EVERY HEINEKEN CUP team, bar Leinster and Ulster, losing at least once so far this season, Munster can put themselves in prime position to reach the knock-out stages by defeating Perpignan in France.

The Top 14 side did little to break a sweat in Limerick last Sunday. They have made some team changes ahead of tomorrow’s clash and should put up an altogether different type of fight at Stade Aimé Giral.

Here are the key battles that should shape the destiny of this intriguing encounter:

James Cronin v Paulica Ion

Truly a baptism of Catalan fire for the 23-year-old prop from Cork. Cronin made his Munster debut in April of this year and, six months later, will pack down against the seven-time Top 14 champions. Cronin’s direct opponent, Paulica Ion, played seven seasons in the Premiership before earning a move to France. The Romanian international weighs in just shy of 19 stone and is seen as doughty and reliable. Cronin will be asked to hold his own for 50-odd minutes before Dave Kilcoyne is sprung from the bench.

Peter O’Mahony v Dan Leo

The Munster captain enjoyed himself in the loose last weekend but should be needed for a sleeve-rolling shift against the Samoan blindside. Leo has been restored to the starting line-up and will be asked to take attacking cuts off the Munster defence while keeping a roving eye out for visiting scrum-half Cathal Sheridan.

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O’Mahony is growing into his role as a main ball-carrying threat for club and country. INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Leo cut his teeth in New Zealand club rugby before earning a move to Wasps in England. He quite often played No.8 for the Premiership club and proved a strong runner off lineouts and scrums.

Cathal Sheridan v Nicolas Durand

At 25, Sheridan is by no means a green scrum-half yet Saturday’s game will be his first Heineken Cup start. He performed well after replacing Murray midway through the first-half against Perpignan last week but he enjoyed the benefit of making decisions behind a pack that was clearly on top.

The Sligo native takes on another steady if unspectacular Perpignan opponent. Nicolas Durand played for France back in 2007 and has played with four Top 14 sides. He has been charged with partnering Tommaso ‘Tommy’ Allan as the 20-year-old Scottish/Italian seeks to make an instant impact against the visiting two-time champions.

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