8 Dec, 15:36
Munster produced their best performance of the season to secure a bonus-point 36-8 win over Perpignan at Thomond Park on Sunday.
They open with a game in Ravenhill against 6th placed Top 14 side Castres Olympique and will be a short order with the bookies for a bonus point victory, shorter still for just a victory even if Castres did account for Clermont Auvergne at the weekend.
Title holders Leinster open their quest for three-in-row at home to Exeter Chiefs and once again and despite injury worries Joe Schmidt’s side have to be fancied for the bonus point win. The Chiefs are making their debut in the competition and although they saw off Harlequins at home on Saturday they shouldn’t be among the list of first round surprise packages.
Connacht and Munster travel to Italy and France respectively, Eric Elwood’s team to play Zebre at Stadio XXV Aprile where they’ve already triumphed in the PRO12 and Munster to Paris to play Racing Metro at the Stade de France.
Elwood will need the form that saw them demolish Leinster rather than what was dished up in Ravenhill if they’re to prevail while Munster’s clash with the French side is already been described as "a defining game in their season", a view not shared by coach Rob Penney.
“I think, barring Ospreys where I thought we were below par, I actually think we’re doing some really good things. We’re close but we’re not quite getting over the line. So I don’t think this game, this next game, defines us at all. I think we’re still going through a lot of learning. We’ve gotta get there at some point. I can’t commend the boys highly enough for their endeavour and their effort. And we’ve just got to get the accuracy aspect both offensively and defensively right."
“So again, I don’t think next week defines our season. I think there’s a lot of footy to go. I think our ability to produce good performances on a consistent basis, and when we’ve got a foot on the throat, to be able to nail the opportunities that are presented to us is not happening at the moment."
"To say that next week defines our season, or the next two weeks even defines our season I think is a bit harsh, bit short-sighted, given that we’ve some lads that are new to this. Any real opportunity for them to play is a growing opportunity."
"And I for one am really positive about the direction that they are headed.”
Munster will have their first squad session on Wednesday at which stage there will be some clarity on the fitness status of the likes of Donncha O'Callaghan who was forced off early in the game on Saturday and Niall Ronan who picked up an injury in training last week.