Dominic Evans previews this weekend’s massive clash between two old foes; Gloucester and Munster.
The previous match in a Heineken Cup pool between Gloucester and Munster provided a classic encounter in 2003, later dubbed ‘The Miracle Match’. Munster required a bonus point win along with a margin of at least 27 points. ‘The Red Army’ won 33-6, and also ending the ‘Cherry and Whites’ involvement in the tournament.
Gloucester will feel they need their miracle match this weekend to try to top the group heading into round 6. Saturday’s hosts domestic form until now is poor this season, currently only occupying ninth position in the Aviva Premiership. In Europe, however, Gloucester has so far endured a decent run winning 3 out of 4. The one loss was a thumping 26-10 at Thomond Park.
The biggest problem the head coach Nigel Davis faces is the performances of his star players, such as fly-half Freddie Burns and summer signing Matt Kvesic, are well below expectations. Burns was even dropped out of the match day squad on several occasions recently. Media speculation has suggested outside influences from the likes of Leicester to replace Toby Flood, has affected his form.
Last week, Saracens exploited their frailties in the scrum. They lost two men to the sin bin, and still won a penalty at the scrum against the head. With Ian Keatley holding the most penalties converted (10). Munster will be confident the scrum is an area to build a foundation on the score line.
To date Munster have enjoyed an excellent first half of the season. ‘The Red Army’ stands at the summit of both the RaboDirect Pro 12 and pool 6.
Akin to Gloucester, the pool leaders have weaknesses. Munster hold the unwanted stat of most missed tackles (65). If Gloucester acquire quick ball from the line-out than the certainly have the backs to split Munster’s defence. Jonny May’s try in round 3 against Edinburgh is well worth a search on YouTube.
As alluded to beforehand, the line-out is the other key aspect. Paul O Connell and Donnacha Ryan have not commanded Munster’s line out expertly so far. The visitors will perceive it as a vital issue to winning the match and should also target the hosts, as Gloucester lead the pack on this statistic with 45 line-out wins, the best in the competition.
On stats, the breakdown will be a closely contested area for both sides. Munster have won 96% of their rucks, while Gloucester have the highest tackle rate at 91%.
Form would suggest a comfortable victory for the province. For the home team, a rise of intensity for all positions is the minimum requirement if they are to stand any chance of victory and to keep their European dreams alive. It should be mentioned Gloucester earned some hard fought wins this season, most notably the controversial home match to Northampton. With the do or die attitude demanded, Munster will need to keep up their excellent form to overcome this tricky Gloucester side.
Live tweets of the game will be provided by @PunditArena from 17:45 this Saturday.
Gloucester match day squad: Martyn Thomas; Charlie Sharples, Jonny May, Billy Twelvetrees (capt), Shane Monahan; Freddie Burns, Dan Robson; Yann Thomas, Darren Dawidiuk, Sila Puafisi; Elliott Stooke, James Hudson; Matt Cox, Matt Kvesic, Gareth Evans
Replacements: Huia Edmonds, Dan Murphy, Shaun Knight, Tom Hicks, Sione Kalamafoni, Tavis Knoyle, Rob Cook, Ben Morgan.
Munster match day squad: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony (Captain), Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Simon Zebo.
Pundit Arena, Dominic Evans.