Familiar faces to return to Thomond Park for Munster's home European opener

Donnacha Ryan will join Ronan O’Gara as part of Racing 92’s contingent bidding to conquer fortress Thomond Park in Munster’s first home European fixture of the season, which was announced today, writes Stephen Barry.

Munster won’t be without their own insider knowledge for that clash of familiar rivals at 5.30pm on Saturday, October 21, having signed second-row replacement for Ryan Gerbrandt Grobler and scrum-half James Hart from Racing.

Donnacha Ryan

That all comes six days after Munster return from France, having faced Castres Olympique at the 11,500-capacity Stade Pierre-Antoine for their Champions Cup opener (Sunday, October 15 at 1pm, Irish time).

However, that will be the only unfamiliar assignment for last year’s semi-finalists, with Leicester Tigers once again the back-to-back December opponents for Munster.

Leicester will return to Thomond Park at 7.45pm on Saturday, December 9, to try to banish the memories of their 38-0 whitewashing last year. The Welford Road repeat takes place the following Sunday, December 17, at 5.30pm.

Tickets for the expected sell-out home ties against Racing 92 and Leicester will go on general sale on September 1 and October 13 respectively.

Leinster will also welcome some familiar faces back to the RDS as Montpellier return on Saturday, October 14 for their Pool 3 opener. Leo Cullen’s men avenged an away loss to the French side with a 57-3 pummelling last January en route to the tournament semi-finals.

Leinster then travel to Scotstoun to face Glasgow Warriors on Saturday, October 21, for another 1pm kick-off.

English Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs will provide the opposition for the back-to-back fixtures, with a trip to Sandy Park on Sunday, December 10, before the Aviva Stadium rematch on Saturday, December 16 at 3.15pm.

The competition will kick-off at Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium on Friday, October 13 at 7.45pm. Their opposition, Wasps, will be accustomed to the venue having beaten the hosts 26-15 in a pre-season friendly last Thursday.

Away trips to French newcomers La Rochelle, who topped the Top 14 regular season standings last year, on October 22 and Harlequins on December 10 follow before the Ravenhill return against the London club on December 15.

Three-in-a-row chasers Saracens certainly won’t have it easy to defend their title as they face runners-up Clermont-Auvergne in a pair of thrilling December fixtures.

Meanwhile, new Connacht coach Kieran Keane is planning for two early away trips against French opposition as their first four Challenge Cup fixtures were released.

However, their first game will take place in Geneva, Switzerland as second-tier Pro D2 champions Oyonnax drive an hour across the border to the 30,000-capacity Stade de Geneve on October 14. Munster fans may remember the stadium from their 2007 visit, when they ground out a 30-27 win over Bourgoin.

Donncha O'Callaghan with Munster's Jack O'Donoghue

Connacht will welcome Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter Stringer and rest of the Worcester Warriors squad to the Sportsground the following Saturday, October 21.

The Stade Amedee-Domenech is their destination on December 9 to face Brive, before welcoming the French side to Galway seven days later.


By Stephen Barry

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