Munster will pay the price for a disappointing finish in the PRO12 last year with what looks like the most difficult group in this year’s Champions Cup.
French champions Racing 92, English powerhouses Leicester Tigers and Glasgow Warriors make up what looks like a real group of death for Rassie Erasmus’s men.
With Munster’s first game coming up tomorrow let’s take a more detailed look on the sides they’ll be facing in this season’s Champions Cup.
Many people, including yours truly, thought that last year was going to be Racing’s year in the Champions Cup, especially when they knocked out holders Toulon at the quarter final stage.
Alas it wasn’t to be for Racing as they didn’t turn up on the day of the final and were comprehensively beaten by Saracens in the final.
They did go on to clinch the Top 14 title with a hugely impressive win over Toulon playing with a man down for over 60 minutes.
A lot of people would have tipped them for a big year this year with Dan Carter settled in nicely but things haven’t exactly caught fire for them yet.
Despite wins over Toulon and Toulouse they’ve lost four of their opening eight matches although a win last weekend over Stade Francais was much needed and brought them into the top half of the table.
Munster face them in Paris tomorrow and will be hoping to put a disappointing loss to Leinster behind them. A positive note from the weekend will be that the intensity that Leinster brought to the match should have them ready for the Parisian outfit.
To be honest I don’t think the drug controversy surrounding Carter, Joe Rokocoko and Juan Imhoff will affect Racing at all.
Looking at the Champions Cup season ahead, I think every Munster fan would take a losing bonus point in Paris and pray they don’t need a win on the final day especially with former crowd favourite turned spy Ronan O’ Gara as defensive coach of Racing.
But who knows with Parisians not having everything their own way in France now could be the perfect chance to set the cat among the pigeons.
For the second year in a row Munster have drawn Leicester in their Champions Cup group and will hope to avoid a similar fate to last year where they were truly at humbled by a home defeat and also lost albeit a bit more respectively in the return fixture.
Traditionally very similar to Munster in their style of play and how their times of European and domestic dominance coincided Leicester seem to be moving away from their traditional territory-based, forward based game.
The arrival of New Zealander Aaron Mauger as head coach seems to have coincided with this change of philosophy and the signing of JP Pietersen is a serious statement.
That being said this is still Richard Cockerill’s team, the pack look extremely strong and the front row in particular looks to have serious strength in depth.
They’ve had a reasonably good start to the season with three wins from two most noticeably a very impressive hammering of Bath.
Munster face them in the crucial back to back fixtures and if they harbor any hopes of progression they will need a win at home with a try bonus point and hope for, at worst, a losing bonus point at Welford Road.
Despite losing to Glasgow Warriors in their opening Champions Cup game on Friday, Leicester will provide a stern test for Munster.
Fellow PRO12 big boys Glasgow represent potentially two very difficult matches for Munster but in the context of the group two matches they are going to have to win if they want to progress.
Townsend’s side have been better than Munster in the last few seasons, and a heart breaking last minute defeat away to Northampton last year derailed any hope they had of progressing from their group.
It was however an impressive campaign where they even managed a win against fellow group opponents Racing metro.
Glasgow will play their normal attacking flair rugby and the addition of world cup winner Corey Flynn at hooker will add a wealth of much needed experience and will help fix a problem area.
The Scottish side are by no means pushovers and an away game up in Glasgow is always going to be difficult especially now with their new artificial pitch.
All that being said Munster know that this is a team they must, and have the ability to beat home and away despite their impressive win over Leicester in round one.
So a very difficult task awaits Munster but by no means is it impossible. Erasmus seems to have installed a new confidence in the team.
He’s brought with him the South African ideology of playing for territory and using their forwards to build strong platforms for their backs which served Munster so greatly down the years.
They’ve looked decent so far this year and with key players now returning from injury this could be a key year in the rebuilding process but ones thing is for sure it won’t come easy.