Munster v Northampton Saints: Big match preview

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Fixture: Munster v Northampton Saints

Competition: Investec Champions Cup (Pool 3 – game four)

Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, January 20, 2024, 5.30pm

Saints faced Munster twice last season (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)Saints faced Munster twice last season (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Saints faced Munster twice last season (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Weather forecast: 9c, light rain

Live television coverage: TNT Sports

Referee: Tual Trainini (France)

Assistant referees: Ludovic Cayre (France) and Flavien Hourquet (France)

No.4: Kevin Coffey (Ireland)

TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

Munster: Zebo; Nash, Frisch, Nankivell, Daly; Crowley, Casey; Loughman, Scannell, Jager; Ahern, Beirne (c); O’Mahony, Hodnett, Coombes.

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Replacements: Clarke, Wycherley, Ryan, Gleeson, Kendellen, Murray, Carbery, O’Brien.

Saints: Furbank (c); Freeman, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Sleightholme; F Smith, Mitchell; A Waller, Langdon, Davison; Mayanavanua, Coles; Lawes, Pearson, Augustus.

Replacements: R Smith, Iyogun, Millar Mills, Moon, Graham, James, Odendaal, Savala.

Not considered for Saints selection: George Hendy, Lewis Ludlam, Sam Matavesi, James Ramm, Tom Seabrook.

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Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 14, 2023: Munster 27 Saints 23 (Investec Champions Cup – pool stages)

Munster defence coach Denis Leamy: “We've played them twice and this will be the third time in the last year. We know them quite well but what I would say is they've moved to another level around all aspects of their game. They’re a better team again than what we played last year. Their attack is class. It’s really, really good. Their speed of ball, you know, quickest ruck in the Premiership. How we deal with that, how we manage that will be really important because they’ve got such quality. Just even take their middle segment of their team. They’ve (Courtney) Lawes, (Tom) Pearson, (Juarno) Augustus, you’ve got (Alex) Mitchell who runs everything for them, he’s a brilliant conductor, Fin Smith, and (Rory) Hutchinson, the Scottish lad. They’re quality, just brilliant attacking rugby players. Their attack is really pretty scary to be honest with you. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen an attack that’s choreographed and put together, really well put together."

Saints director of rugby Phil Dowson: “We're excited. We had an experience there last season and it was the tale of two halves so we want to put our game back on the pitch. It's one of the great places to go and play in Europe so we're fired up. We're in a good phase at the moment in terms of momentum but we understand we're going to have to go to a very high level to deal with what Munster are going to bring to the table. We're relatively happy with where we're at but we're also aware of the challenge that awaits. They're always desperate for the win in Europe, they won the URC last year, they've got a tonne of talent, Irish internationals galore and that's where we want to be. We want to challenge ourselves at the top table, we want to find out about ourselves and the one thing you will do is find out about yourself there."

Opposition dangerman: Another week with plenty to pick from but powerhouse No.8 Gavin Coombes is the pick here. He has history against Saints, having scored four times across the two matches between the teams last season. Coombes proved too strong for Saints on both occasions, bagging doubles to help Munster win home and away against Phil Dowson’s men.

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Tom Vickers’ prediction: This Saints side has passed some huge tests in recent months and this is a mouthwatering match-up. Munster have inflicted plenty of misery on Saints at Thomond Park in years gone by. Now it’s time for the men from Northampton to get a win of their own. Munster 23 Saints 25.