Munster welcome Racing 92 to Thomond Park this weekend for a real heavyweight clash in the Heineken Champions Cup.
The pair last met two seasons ago when the French giants overpowered Munster in the tournament semi-final en route to their final defeat by Leinster.
That semi-final defeat just happened to be Simon Zebo’s last European game for the southern province before jetting off to pastures new in Paris.
The former Ireland international returns home this weekend, however, he will be hoping to rain on Munster’s Champions Cup parade.
Zebo’s close friend and former teammate Conor Murray says it should be fun welcoming Zebo back to Thomond Park citing that the winger’s return is a ‘cool sub-plot’ to add to the occasion.
“Yeah, should be fun,” said Murray earlier today.
“I’d say he’s looking forward to coming home to Thomond Park, probably performing well in Thomond Park and then kind of just marking the occasion. I think it’s nice, it’s a cool sub-plot I suppose.”
Murray continued by predicting that Zebo will get a good reception on his return to Thomond Park.
“It’ll create a bit of chat and atmosphere. But take that out of it, Saturday evening at 5.15 pm. European rugby in Thomond is something we all love playing in and it’s going to be a great occasion.
Racing (are a) great team. I saw last week, they were really impressive with their pack and their backline, really, really impressive and Zeebs got a couple of minutes. Whether he starts or whatever I’m sure he’ll get a good reception in Thomond.”
The meeting is one of two European rugby heavyweights who have clashed repeatedly down through the years.
Murray knows full well the extent of the Racing threat, particularly in the back-field where Zebo is joined by Brice Dulin, Teddy Thomas and Virimi Vakatawa who really impressed at the recent World Cup.
“I think two good squads going up against each other. Two squads who have two or three options in most positions. With (Brice) Dulin and Teddy Thomas and Zeebs probably to come back in there. Whatever way they mix it up they have got a really, really dangerous back three.
“They showed with Vakatawa who’s really really good at the moment, had a great World Cup and carried that form on. I thought he was incredible last week, he literally did everything. Line breaks, turnovers, big hits, he’s someone that you’ve got to contain and then if he gets going at all, to be able to feed that back three is pretty dangerous.”
Thomond Park could be the key ingredient to getting Munster over the line as it has been on multiple occasions in the past.
“Yeah I think being in Thomond and the atmosphere that’s going to be created on Saturday is brilliant but it was the same back then you know. It was a class atmosphere, great week of a buzz building up to it but it’s still a class side coming to play us so that’s what we’ve got to focus on.
“The job at hand and making sure we can perform well and try to find a way to win this game. It all looks great, it’s a great fixture. It would be brilliant if we got a win but it’s going to be a really tough one again. One that could come down to the wire.”
Murray believes coming back to Munster has been the perfect way to get over any hangovers remaining from Ireland’s dismal World Cup campaign.
“I had a bit of time off, came back in, literally had no time to, you wouldn’t even feel sorry for yourself you’re just back into a group of lads who are training really hard and trying to get the best out of each other and focus on the two tournaments going on here and that was the best thing.
“It was a tough World Cup, it’ll take a while to get over but we’re not thinking about it now. It’s nice to be able to just move on and play rugby again just for the enjoyment of it and there’s no better place to come back to than here to play rugby.”
Saturday’s encounter with Racing marks the final game of Alby Mathewson’s Munster career.
The scrum-half was signed as cover for Murray when he was struggling with a neck injury. Four months ultimately turned to 18 but the time has come for the New Zealand native to make way.
When pressed on the influence Mathewson has had on the squad’s younger talent, Murray believes his influence has spread right through the team.
“Yeah, incredible. You talk about the younger scrum-halves but I’ve learnt an awful lot of Alby as well. How he approaches the game and most of all just the way he sees the game and I’m learning a lot just from chatting to him about whatever it may be, all areas of the game.
“I think players in general kind of fed off him. He’s an incredible professional. He looks after himself really really well, that’s why he’s still playing so well at 33.
“So he’ll be a huge loss, it’d be great to keep him around just to keep learning off him and keep feeding off him.
“It’s there for all you to see on the outside what he’s contributed on the pitch and then for us day to day he’s been really, really valuable in terms of our learnings and seeing the game from a different perspective. A good squad man as well gets on with everyone. Has a laugh and a joke with everyone and is really liked.”