Munster braced for Castres clash and wary of 'fool's gold'

THERE IS NO more common fixture in Heineken Champions Cup rugby than this, but squint a little and you’ll see something strange about Castres Olympique. They finally look like a club who care about this tournament.

Traditionally, one might have looked at CO and felt round three was the ideal time to face them, with their interest in Europe thoroughly discouraged after shadow teams were handed hidings in the opening two fixtures.

With the Bouclier de Brennus safely stored in Stade Pierre-Fabre, Castres are proudly representing France and have allowed their focus to broaden, rather than concentrate solely on the Top14. Round one saw them lose narrowly to a slick piece of Danny Cipriani creativity. In round two, they met Exeter Chiefs head on at home and, despite being reduced to 14 men for 44 minutes, battled to a 29-25 win.

CJ Stander and Conor Murray
CJ Stander and Conor Murray at UL this week.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Tomorrow afternoon [kick-off 1pm, BT Sport] is a chance to make an irrefutable statement. Though they have made five changes on the back of a home defeat to Agen, it’s far from the Espoirs they have sent to Limerick and the presence of Scott Spedding with half-backs Benjamin Urdapilleta and Ludovic Radosavljevic ensure that Johann van Graan’s analysis hasn’t been time wasted.

“I think they play quite differently to most French teams,” says the South African, “they are very structured in their kicking game, In my opinion quite a few teams have fallen into the trap of trying to play against them too much, you know? They use their nine and their 10 with their distant kicking game.”

They force you into overplaying and getting you into uncomfortable positions and then they’ve got a pretty big poach threat.”

Van Graan goes on to warn that Castres have improved and are fitter than the meetings last season (an away draw and home bonus point win for Munster) and reiterates his call not to overplay in attack.

“Some teams fall into the trap of fool’s gold against them and you do it at your own peril. That is why I said we have to be very specific in the way we approach them in the next two weeks because they do force a lot of errors.”

Johann van Graan with Billy Holland
Set-piece first: Billy Holland and Johann van Graan take a look at line-out calls.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But that’s more then sufficient talking-up of a team Munster have lost to only three times in a long history of meetings. Fans of the southern province should walk towards Cratloe Road with great confidence. Not only because they are in Thomond Park chasing an 11th straight European win at the venue, but because Van Graan’s team was positively humming last time out against Edinburgh and have CJ Stander and Joey Carbery to add to the mix.

Between Stander, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Carbery and his partnership with Conor Murray, Munster have a wealth of gamechangers at their disposal. This weekend’s starting XV would arguably only need the addition of Jean Kleyn to make it Munster’s strongest.

Perhaps the most exciting return, however, has been Chris Farrell. The Ulster native has reportedly been lighting up the GPS metrics for speed and power along his long road to recovery from a ruptured ACL. His barnstorming performance in Cork last Friday backed up the rumour. The 25-year-old’s power and distribution could prove key in giving Munster early breakthroughs to stop them chasing the ‘fool’s gold’ Van Graan warns of.

“He trained so well and we re-integrated him to training and as we came back from the Cheetahs game he just seemed pure class on the field,” says Van Graan.

Chris Farrell
Chris Farrell in training this week.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“He has some very specific objectives from our side on what he needs to improve on and the same from Joe (Schmidt’s) side, and I think it was evident over the weekend his strong points are most definitely there… there is still a lot more room for improvement, it’s brilliant to have him available for selection over the weekend.”

Room for improvement, but certainly nothing in the physical realm for Farrell.

“I think his decision-making can always improve, like all players can. He has really worked hard on his passing game, his ‘D’ especially when he forces guys on the inside, he makes it so easy for the outside tackle technique, I think he would be the first to say he wants to improve every single day and every single week. Fair play to him he has really done that over the past few months.”

Gloucester’s win in a soaking wet Sandy Park means Munster are no longer top of Pool 2 before kick-off against the French champions. And with a trip to Kingsholm and a return meeting with Exeter to come in the New Year, the value of winning in this back-to-back round is clear. They just may be harder won than some of the previous encounters with Castres.

Munster

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Joey Carbery
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. Billy Holland
6. Peter O’Mahony (Captain)
7. Chris Cloete
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. Ciaran Parker
19. Fineen Wycherly
20. Arno Botha
21. Alby Mathewson
22. JJ Hanrahan
23. Sam Arnold

Castres

15. Scott Spedding
14. Armand Batlle
13. Thomas Combezou
12. Florian Vialelle
11. Taylor Paris
10. Benjamin Urdapilleta
9. Ludovic Radosavljevic

1. Antoine Tichit
2. Jody Jenneker
3. Daniel Kotze
4. Loic Jacquet
5. Thibault Lassalle
6. Mathieu Babillot (captain)
7. Kevin Gimeno
8. Alex Tulou

Replacements:

16. Kevin Firmin
17. Paea Fa’anunu
18. Marc Clerc
19. Christophe Samson
20. Yannick Caballero
21. Julien Caminati
22. Martin Laveau
23. Rory Kockott

Referee: JP Doyle (England); Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Paul Dix (England).

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne preview a big weekend of Heineken Cup action and dissect the week’s main talking points.

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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