Munster big guns eye Leicester Tigers clash

Rassie Erasmus is confident Peter O’Mahony, Jaco Taute, and Tyler Bleyendaal will all be fit to face Leicester Tigers when the English giants return to Thomond Park this weekend for the resumption of Munster’s Champions Cup campaign.

The trio are all shaking off niggles as Guinness PRO12 league leaders Munster turn their focus on Europe and the first of back-to-back pool games, home and away, with old rivals Leicester, starting on Saturday in Limerick in a stadium already close to selling out.

Director of rugby Erasmus will welcome back his full international contingent following Ireland’s successful November Test window and his hand will be further strengthened having emerged from last Friday’s trip to league rivals Glasgow with a relatively clean bill of health.

Fly-half Bleyendaal was kept out of the narrow league win at Scotstoun, sealed by a late drop goal from the New Zealander’s replacement, Ian Keatley. He was withdrawn as a precaution having developed an ankle problem in training. Of those that did face Gregor Townsend’s side, club captain O’Mahony, centre Taute, and scrum-half Duncan Williams picked up minor knocks.

“Peter O’Mahony has a little bit of a stiff back,” Erasmus said. “The other concern was Jaco Taute with bumps and bruises on the ribs. The other guys that played, Duncan’s got a little bit of a shoulder but none of them should be a doubt for this weekend. Tyler should be fit... there was a bit of a niggle so that’s why we took him out of it. He’ll be available. It was an ankle. And Keats was on form for us last time and it was good to give him a proper run as well.”

There was further good news for Munster with All Blacks centre Francis Saili returning to training yesterday at the University of Limerick following a lengthy rehabilitation from two operations on the same shoulder during the summer. Erasmus, speaking before yesterday’s opening training session of the week, said of Saili: “Francis will train today on the field for the first time and he will hopefully be available for the week of the Leinster game (on December 26) if everything goes according to plan, either the A side, a club game or in the (matchday) 23.”

Munster have two big games with Leicester to negotiate before then, the Tigers having inflicted a Thomond Park defeat on the province at the same stage 12 months ago before edging the Welford Road return a week later. After what Erasmus described as an at times average performance from his players in Glasgow, which stretched his side’s winning run to six games since the sudden death of Anthony Foley on October 16, the Munster chief said there would need to be an increase in intensity for the step up in class to European rugby this weekend.

“I’m not sure how much better we’ll need to be but our intensity will definitely need to be different. I think the moment you run out for a game like this, the intensity just ups because you’re playing against internationals, whereas sometimes in the PRO12 there are fewer international players and there are some weaknesses. When you get into Europe there are very few weaknesses in the opposition, the intensity levels are up and the room for mistakes will be much less.”

Having Ireland stars Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, and CJ Stander available once more, in addition to the already returned Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony was a boost in that regard, Erasmus said, particularly given the confidence they will bring after victories over New Zealand and Australia.

Integrating once more with the existing squad, though, was crucial ahead of Saturday’s challenge against a team fourth in the English Premiership having overcome East Midlands rivals Northampton on Saturday.

“The balancing act is to make sure with players being split up between Irish camp and playing for Ireland and playing for us, to quickly get aligned with how we (in Munster) are trying to do things, technically and tactically.

“It’s the same for Leicester, who had two or three guys playing internationals, so it’s a hell of a boost but also a big responsibility for our side and from the senior and international side to quickly make sure we’re aligned in what we’re trying to do, tactically on the field on Saturday.”

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