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Opponents in Focus - Munster

30th August 2006

Munster, players and supporters, return to a city that gave them their greatest triumph last May with victory in the Heineken Cup final.

And in winning that game against Biarritz , they exorcised the memory of the disappointment of the 2002 defeat by Leicester Tigers. So no surprise then that Cardiff holds and will always hold a special place in the minds and hearts of Munster folk.

But what made last May’s visit to Cardiff so special was the way the citizens of the city welcomed the Red Army and lent their support to Munster’s cause. That support spread right through the valleys and those of us fortunate enough to
have enjoyed Welsh hospitality that weekend will be forever grateful to our Celtic cousins.

A week after that marvellous occasion back in May, the Munster versus Cardiff Blues Celtic League game brought the curtain down on the season. It was a game that attracted a full house to Thomond Park as the two sides battled it out and victory giving Munster third place in the table, just three points ahead of the Blues in fourth.

But the significant thing about those final League placing is that it reflected a superb end of season run of Blues form that saw them move from the nether regions of the table to finish as top Welsh side. In the close season, shrewd recruitment and players returning from injury leaves them with a squad that according to Martyn Williams is their strongest ever.

At the end of last season, Munster said goodbye to Paul Burke, Rob Henderson, Stephen Keogh, Trevor Hogan, Mike Prendergast, Mike Mullins, Frank Murphy and the two players who had joined last season as cover, Anthon Pitout and Gary Connolly.

Meanwhile, Chris Wyatt has opted for a red rather than a scarlet jersey joining from Llanelli while Eoghan Hickey has moved down country from Leinster.

To date, the rest of Munster’s recruitment has been done from within. The form of Denis Fogarty, Ian Dowling, Barry Murphy and Jeremy Manning has earned them full contracts while Shane O’Connor, James Coughlan, Donnacha Ryan, Chris Delooze and Ciaran O’Boyle have come through the ranks to tie down Development contracts.

Lat weekend Munster opened with a game against Leicester Tigers and that match heralded a welcome return to action for Frank Sheahan, out since October 05 and Christian Cullen who played his first full game since injuring himself here at The Arms Park in March 05.

Things will be a little different this time around both on and off the pitch. Its not exactly rocket scientology to suggest that Cardiff will be determined to offer some pay back for that May defeat but what better place to kick of the Magners League than the famous Arms Park against one of the most respected clubs in world rugby.