Four changes as Munster seek to regain cutting edge

SOMETHING had to give after last week’s disappointing performance and so it’s no surprise coach Alan Gaffney has made four changes, one positional, in the Munster side to tackle Castres Olympique in this evening’s crucial Heineken European Cup tie at Thomond Park.

Castres counterpart Christophe Urios has also wielded the axe, although in his case his hands were tied by injuries to key players Brad Fleming, Yannick Delaigue and Mario Ledesma. Nevertheless, he has replaced Irish international Justin Fitzpatrick in the front-row with the Argentinian international Mauricio Reggiardo. In a reshuffled back five he has switched another Puma, Rodrigo Capo Ortega, from the blindside flank to the second-row instead of Nicolas Spanghero, who isn’t even on the bench.

David Wallace has met the same fate with Munster. He and fellow flanker Jim Williams have paid the penalty for relatively quiet performances last week and are replaced by the fit-again Denis Leamy and Alan Quinlan.

Mike Mullins, who came in as a replacement in the first game, starts with Shaun Payne moving to the right wing in place of Mossy Lawler.

“The omission of Williams is certainly a big call but Quinny brings a lot to the table”, said Gaffney. “He’s a natural athlete and line-out jumper, an area in which he gives us another option. Indiscipline has been a problem with him in the past. The message has been hammered home. We have Jim Williams on the bench and you muck with our back-row at your peril. Castres are a physical side and Denis Leamy is a physical player with a lot of high skill levels.”

The back division changes hardly come as a surprise. Gaffney is demanding a far greater cutting edge and is entitled to expect Mullins to add punch to the midfield and Payne to demonstrate his finishing prowess on the wing. The problem facing the pack and half-backs Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer is how best to get Payne and Anthony Horgan and full-back Christian Cullen into gainful attacking situations.

Gaffney admits to being somewhat perplexed at the move of Capo Ortega to the second-row: “We didn’t expect the total omission of Spanghero; I didn’t notice him injured last week. You wouldn’t classify Capo Ortega as a line-out jumper as such. Obviously Alexandre Bias will be one of their primary jumpers along with Lionel Nallet except that Nallet hasn’t been a primary jumper either. Spanghero has.

“So the line-out is something we’re going to have to analyse and see what to expect. Lhande and Dourthe were always going to be in for Fleming and Denney, Reggiardo coming in is no surprise so the only change we didn’t expect was Ortega.

Gaffney believes Castres will play a game similar to last week before he ruefully quipped: “It’s just that we’ve go to play a game different to what we played.”

Few would argue. Castres are no world beaters, but they were much better than Munster eight days ago. If they are to be undermined, Munster must eliminate the appalling list of unforced errors, including the abysmal failure to complete first-up tackles.

As always, the pack must exercise early control and get the home side on the front foot so that the fans have something to cheer about. Do that and victory by the crucial margin of eight points or more will surely follow.

Let’s hope all of those points don’t come from O’Gara’s boot in this, his 50th Heineken Cup appearance. The great need is for the side to rediscover its try scoring touch - and quickly.

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