Northampton not daunted by Munster clash

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The Independent Online

Ireland international Neil Best insists Northampton will not be daunted by the prospect of meeting Munster in Limerick tomorrow.

The trophy treble-chasing Saints head to Thomond Park for a Heineken Cup quarter-final appointment with the twice European champions.

And their degree of difficulty is increased by the fact Munster have suffered a solitary defeat - against Northampton's fierce Midlands rivals Leicester - from the last 42 Heineken home games.

If that was not tough enough, Saints also have the added pressure of flying a lone English quarter-final flag.

Should Northampton bow out this weekend, then England will have no Heineken semi-finalist for the first time since 2003.

Best and company, though, can take heart from a 31-27 pool stage victory over Munster earlier this season, while the return fixture produced a tense 12-9 defeat at Thomond Park when Saints could easily have won.

"I know none of our players will be daunted by going there in the quarter-finals," said former Ulster flanker Best.

"That last match gave us a lot of confidence. The big thing is that we believe in ourselves wherever we are playing, and know we could have won that match at Thomond in January.

"All in all it is going to be a very difficult encounter, but we are also a good team.

"People were saying that our home win against them in the pool stage was one of the best games they had seen in years.

"We played really well in matching their ferocity and intensity, and tactically we were very clever. It was certainly a great match to play in and to win."

Northampton already have the LV= Cup and qualification for next season's Heineken Cup in the bag, but further honours can be attained at European and domestic level.

Three more Heineken wins would see Saints reclaim the Heineken trophy they won in 2000, while a home draw in the Premiership title play-offs next month has effectively been secured.

"The prize is to win all three," added Best.

"We have only done one third of that, although the LV= Cup final was a tremendous spectacle and we ensured Heineken Cup qualification as well."

Munster's fierce Irish rivals and defending European champions Leinster launch the quarter-final action tonight against dangerous French challengers Clermont Auvergne in Dublin.

"The suggestion that French sides are bad travellers is old news as far as we are concerned," warned Leinster and Ireland star Brian O'Driscoll, who is set to return following a knee ligament injury.

"Clermont are a side who are capable of going anywhere and playing well - and winning - so I am sure that they would like nothing better than to come over here and spoil the party."

Sole Welsh survivors the Ospreys, meanwhile, are in San Sebastian tomorrow to face 2006 Heineken runners-up Biarritz, with French giants Toulouse and Stade Francais concluding the quarter-final programme on Sunday afternoon.