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Tomás O'Leary training in Thomond Park on Thursday afternoon
Dan Sheridan
Munster Make No Changes for Montauban
1 January 2009, 12:02 pm
By Edward Newman
Munster's swashbuckling performance against Sale Sharks seven days ago may have proved the high point of their season to date, but head coach Tony McGahan says the squad are determined to finish their Heineken Cup pool campaign with a flourish against Montauban at Stade de Sapiac tomorrow (kick off 3.35pm Irish time).
The new Thomond Park - the scene of Munster's cavalier display against the Sharks when the home side ran in six tries in a 37-14 victory thus guaranteeing a place in the knock-out stages of the European Cup for an incredible 11th successive season - was the setting yesterday for the European champions' final training session before the squad regrouped today before departing to southwest France.

Talk of a bonus point win wasn't discussed at yesterday's press conference either, though such an outcome would certainly guarantee a home quarter-final for Munster on the second weekend of April. However, a win and depending how the other pools finish, might also be enough to hand Munster a much coveted last eight home fixture.

McGahan described the prospect of a home quarter final as a "fantastic" reward but he knows better than most the extent of the challenge against Montauban - a side that has won its last three home games against credible opposition in Sale, Biarritz and Bayonne.

"A home quarter would be fantastic," admitted the head coach. "That's an outcome at the end of the eighty minutes, but we have to navigate through that eighty minutes first. It's going to be extremely tough because Montauban are an extremely good side at home. Their results have been excellent so far this year: they had a good win against Sale there in the Heineken Cup. They'll be sticky and they certainly have our number after losing here. Maybe (they'll think) the result could have gone their way."

McGahan was referring Munster's opening Heineken Cup game this season when the newcomers to the competition produced arguably their best display of the season coming within minutes of shocking the home side. A late Ronan O'Gara penalty handed Munster a 19-17 win and that display by the small French club coupled with other notable displays in the Heineken Cup confirmed that they're a side to be treated with respect.

And it's why McGahan is taking noting for granted after naming his strongest available XV for Munster's sixth and final pool match this season.

"We'll be picking our strongest side," he said. "It's a Heineken Cup game and we need to make sure that we finish well. That has always been our intention to finish as high up as we can. Every opportunity out there to get a result, we need to take it and there's an opportunity to play well and we'll take that opportunity.

"The players have come back into training this week and they're very motivated to finish off this campaign very well, because as we know the internationals will depart for the Six Nations. We'll split up soon, so it's important that we maintain and finish on a real high. It's about maintaining focus this week."

He added: "The players certainly know what is at stake and they certainly know that their standards and the way they perform are always on show. It's very important every time we run out on the field, the Munster brand or the Munster players is put out front, so we must play accordingly."

Meanwhile, Munster captain Paul O'Connell recalled the night the Reds played a get-out-of-jail-card against Montauban last October - but admitted that while Munster's performance was below par, it helped them refocus and find their direction for the season. No ALT tag specified

"It was a close night, but I suppose those nights are all part of the process of getting to where we are at the moment and figuring out what we're good at and what we need to do," said O'Connell. "I think those nights - while there were a few close calls - helped us find our direction as a team and what we've needed to do to play better.

"It was a very bad evening. We really needed to take teams on first and foremost and, while we would always try to do that, I think there's specific ways to do that and we've done that a lot better in the last two weeks."

O'Connell is also expecting Montauban to give his team a searching test in what will be the Top-14 club's final Heineken Cup game this season.

"Montauban have said a lot that they're ready for us. They didn't have the strongest team out against Clermont last week, but they've a very good record at home.

"They've won their last two home games against Bayonne and Biarritz and they've been playing very well at home.

"I've talked to Prendy (Mike Prendergast) about his time in Bourgoin. He says the French team that plays away from home and the team that plays at home are different.

"It's the last game of the European Cup for them. The European champions are in town and we've no doubt about the level of motivation they'll have for the game. So it's to make sure we're mentally right ourselves to perform this weekend."

Munster prop Marcus Horan also admitted that Munster probably didn't give Montauban the respect they deserved in October, adding that there'll be no complacency in the Reds camp on this occasion.

"I suppose if we were being very honest, we probably didn't show them the respect that they deserved. I think we played well in patches and the performance as a whole wasn't up to standard.

"But having said that they're a good side and many people probably underestimated it, even ourselves. I think that they would be a very similar team to ourselves in that they play with great passion and a huge amount of pride, and I think this weekend will be no different, especially because they are at home.

"They have the European champions coming to town and they will try to get a scalp of the season for them. They're bottom of the table and will want to get something out of it. I suppose there would be no better scalp for them. They beat Sale down there and only lost to Clermont by a few points. It's definitely a tough place to go, they're very strong in certain areas and I'm sure there passion and pride will drive them on.

No ALT tag specified"I think we have our own demons to deal with and I suppose one of them is the fact that we want to get a bit of consistency and get two good performances running together. On top of that as well, I think we owe it to supporters to try to fight for a home quarter-final, especially in today's climate. People are having to dig deep and they have dug deep over the last 10-11 years now.

"It's one thing that is always on players' minds - if we can help in any way by making people walk to the stadium rather than fly, it will make a huge difference to people. That's definitely a driving force for us and there's definitely no complacency amongst the players as regards the task ahead of us on Saturday and what's at stake."

Munster: P Warwick D Howlett, K Earls, L Mafi, I Dowling, R O'Gara, T O'Leary, M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell capt, A Quinlan, D Wallace, D Leamy. Replacements: D Fogarty, F Pucciariello, D Ryan, N Ronan, P Stringer, B Murphy, D Hurley

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