Skysports.com: We are really getting down to the nitty-gritty in the Heineken Cup now, so just how important is this game for Munster?
MILES SAYS: This match has serious implications for Munster, particularly with Sale in such a strong position in the pool and at home to the Dragons on Sunday.
Munster really have to win and get a bonus point as well to stay in touch with Sale. If they can do that, then Sale’s visit to Thomand Park in the final game of the pool would be very, very interesting.
SS: That sounds pretty serious for Munster fans. We are all used to seeing them in the latter stages of this competition but might they really miss out?
Munster this season haven’t been as bad in the Heineken Cup as some people have been saying. They have won three out of their four games, it is just they started with defeat in the all-important first game, which just happened to be the first game of this year’s tournament and was broadcast to everybody.
On that Friday night Sale beat them and, in the end, by a reasonably convincing margin so people have assumed that Munster haven’t been having a great time.
But they thumped Castres at home and then got a strong win at the Dragons when they realised exactly what they had to do to win that match, and went out there and did it.
What do they need to get through? Could they still finish as one of the best two runners-up?
At this stage they can, and will, only be thinking about winning the group. As we stand going into this weekend both Perpignan and Stade Francais are better off as second placed teams.
It might not stay like that and Munster might argue that they are better placed than the other three second placed sides – Leinster, Saracens and Wasps – but they won’t want to see it like that and are aiming as high as they can.
The only mindset is to go for first place. They may never have won the Heineken Cup, they couldn’t have come closer, but this is Munster and this is their competition. They have a real desire to win it and it is only natural that they will only be contemplating first place.
If they get that and a home draw in the quarter final, then they are well placed and anything can happen.
SS: And what about Castres, out of the competition, will they put up serious opposition to Munster or will they be concentrating on home issues in France?
Castres are a dangerous team, particularly at home. They have beaten the Dragons, and only lost by four points to Sale at home, when Sale had to show all their form from the season to pull through.
It is a bonus for Munster that Castres are out of the running; that will help. There is a difference between French sides with and without an incentive. Because of the nature of the domestic championship in France, and the prominent position it holds in the French game, perhaps they will have one eye on that and qualifying for next year’s Heineken Cup.
Castres going down 35-3 at Sale might have been ‘white flag’ time. They won’t make it easy though. It knocks the edge off the contest but it doesn’t take it into ‘easy’ territory.
PREDICTION: MUNSTER WIN
I will back Munster, you have to on nights like this. The worry is can they get the four tries? Because if they don’t get that bonus point, and Sale do against the Dragons, it would put the Sharks six points in front and leave the Irishmen fighting for a best second place.
SS: Sky Sports will broadcast eight games over the weekend and Miles will preview one of the big games from each day. For Saturday he has chosen the Jonah Lomu and Cardiff against Perpignan. There are some great games on Saturday, why did you choose this one?
MILES SAYS: There are some crackers to pick from on Saturday. When the fixtures came out had Sky not picked Wasps at Toulouse people would have said what are you doing?
Well, it is a repeat of the great 2004 final, and we have already had a draw between them this year, but while Sky is showing it, I am going for Cardiff v Perpignan because I like the look of this game and because of the resurgence of Cardiff as the Blues.
It is terrific for them and for the competition. I don’t think there is a more famous rugby club in the world apart from maybe the Barbarians than Cardiff with their rich history at the Arms Park.
With regional rugby as the Blues, it was time to make a new name for themselves and this season they are starting to do that.
What sort of atmosphere can expect on Saturday?
MILES SAYS: The signing of Lomu has been inspired. I have been to the Arms Park twice since Sky started doing the Heineken Cup – against Leinster last year and Stade Francais two years ago.
I approached those games with great anticipation as it is a great place, full of tradition and history, to watch rugby. But on each occasion I left deflated because the place was half full and it didn’t seem right.
Now we are on the verge of a sell-out this weekend. The atmosphere even before Lomu came was excellent; the noise coming through my TV was massive, and there was a feeling that the Blues had wiped the slate clean. The fans felt they had chance of progressing from their pool after years of failing.
Since Lomu came it has gone crazy. It has the making of a great day. The players, the loyal supporters and coach Dai Young had taken a lot of flak and they deserve a big day.
Now it is the new supporters who are important and they must create a big noise and give Perpignan the sort of warm welcome they normally reserve for visitors to their stadium.
Both teams have an equal chance of qualifying from this pool and it is perfectly set up.
And Jonah Lomu is helping that along nicely. How have you assessed his return to rugby down at Cardiff?
MILES SAYS: It is his first really, really big game. I suppose any game for Lomu is a big one because of how far he has come back. He is such a nice bloke and everyone in rugby is willing him to do well. Even his opponents, not during the game for sure, but before and after and there is no one in rugby that doesn’t wish him well.
He is not the player he was YET, but he does offer this big match re-assurance. It is a Cup final occasion and his presence could be settling. Xavier Rush is another one who is key for that, with guys like Martyn Williams, who plays his 50th match in the Heineken Cup. It is a big day for experience.
PREDICTION: BLUES FOR PERPIGNAN
MILES SAYS: The Blues to win because everything points in that direction.
Since Christmas they have lost Borders and Scarlets in the Celtic League and I think it may have been because they were starting to concentrate on this match, knowing the importance of it.
Blues could be in the quarter final on Saturday night if all goes well, although I don’t think they will because Leeds would need to lose to Calvisano.
But if they win they will be in a very powerful position on their way to Headingley next week.
SS: On Sunday he is commentating at Welford Road for a titanic tussle between Tigers and Stade Francais.
It doesn’t get much bigger than this does it?
MILES SAYS: Leicester v Stade Francais has the heavyweight factor and is the tie of the weekend.
We are getting into the area where you get classic matches on occasion because they mean so much.
On Sunday we will have plenty of Test match players on display and sometimes the intensity of these games raises the club match to Test match status.
The meeting in Paris in autumn was about as disappointing as it could have been after the big build-up. Neither side deserved to win and it turned out that Stade scraped it but they couldn’t have complained had they lost.
And it is just as well for Stade Francais that they did after their defeat to the Ospreys.
Leicester have to do a job on Stade at home which is something they didn’t do a couple of years ago on the final weekend of the pool stages and when defeat ultimately did for Dean Richards as coach.
Stade Francais have been a problem for Leicester since they beat them in the 2001 final, so not only is there a lot riding on this for this year, but there is some history too.
What do Leicester need to do to qualify?
MILES SAYS: If they win with a bonus and Stade Francais get nothing then it will be party time in Leicester on Sunday night as the Tigers will be in the last eight.
And it could just happen because in the big matches at Welford Road the Tigers sometimes really turn it on.
But they have been stuttering a bit this season and there have been frequent matches when Pat Howard has not been complimentary about his team.
He has had this plan about how he wants to mix the squad around and make sure they peak at right time in the right games. Now is that time. If the Welford Crowd can get going, Leicester get a few early scores, then they can be too hot to handle. Just ask Clermont Auvergne. 57 points against them shows what the Tigers can be like on their day.
But this is Stade Francais; a side full of Test players, a strong scum, a clever lineout, powerful ball carriers in the back row and plenty of class and talent in the backs; players who can strike from nowhere and can open up a midfield.
For Leicester to win with a bonus point for four tries and by more than seven is doubtful so this pool might have to continue into the final weekend.
If they win on Sunday, Leicester will at least go to Clermont Auvergne with their destiny in their own hands.
And what do Stade Francais need to qualify?
MILES SAYS: They will be thinking of nothing but a victory. They are not a Perpignan, fearful of being on the road. Take
Gloucester last year for example where they didn’t worry about the Shed, walked on and played with a real swagger. They have also done that to Leicester.
But they were strangely out of sorts against the Ospreys and have been playing catch-up since that game. They have been struck by a ridiculous amount on injuries but they are one of the richest clubs in the world so have the depth to cover them, although it has stopped them getting into any kind of rhythm. You won’t here them complaining.
Like Leicester they will be thinking it is time to start their season now. Up to this point it has been all about getting into a position to strike. If Stade win at Leicester, they are going to win the group, because they will beat the Ospreys at home.
PREDICTION: TIGERS FAIL THEIR FRENCH TEST
MILES SAYS: Leicester have had their problems against French teams in the past. They may have thumped Clermont Auvergne, and they needed to do that, but they lost at home to Biarritz last season, and to Toulouse at the Walkers stadium.
And then there is their recent history with Stade Francais. I don’t want to go against Leicester because they are one of the clubs flying the British and Irish flag in this competition but I think Stade Francais might be too strong this weekend.
If Leicester win they will have to produce probably their best performance of the season and by some way. I would love to be wrong, but I am edging towards a Stade Francais win.
Check out Miles’ previous previews here