McGahan makes a case for the defence

Munster will launch their bid for a third European title in four seasons tomorrow night - but Murrayfield next May could not be further away from coach Tony McGahan’s mind.

The Irish giants could match the achievements of fellow Heineken Cup heavyweights Toulouse and Leicester this term.

Toulouse are solitary three-time European champions, while only Leicester have successfully defended the Heineken Cup, backing up their 2001 triumph with a controversial victory over Munster in Cardiff 12 months later.

Munster are strongly fancied to make it to Edinburgh, which stages its second final following an all-French affair between Toulouse and Stade Francais in 2005.

McGahan though, is concentrating purely and simply on Munster’s qualifying pool, which sees Clermont Auvergne, Sale Sharks and tournament newcomers Montauban alongside them on the starting grid.

Holders Munster are no strangers to demanding groups - they were bracketed with Clermont, Wasps and the Scarlets a year ago, and still finished top despite losing their opening game.

Montauban are first up tomorrow at an expanded 26,000-capacity Thomond Park, and McGahan, who succeeded new Ireland boss Declan Kidney in the Munster hot-seat this summer, knows it must be one job at a time.

He said: “History has shown that it is more difficult to defend the Heineken Cup than it is to win it in the first place.

“So far, only Leicester have managed back-to-win wins.

“And if you look any further forward than the group stages, then you do that at your peril.

“Once again, we are in a really tough pool, and initially we will split the fixtures up into three blocks of two each, and then break those down to one game at a time and plan our preparations match by match.

“As to how I want my team to approach the game, while I am a big advocate of playing positive rugby, at the same time I want a side capable of factoring in the relevant conditions and strengths of the opposition.

“Part one is to play in a positive way, but part two is to also take on board those other elements - I guess you could call it mix and match.”

McGahan, born in Australia, was Munster’s skills and defence coach during the Kidney regime, so he knows every component of the revered red machine.

Perpignan, who are in the same group as Leicester and star-studded Welsh side the Ospreys, face what should be a routine opener against Treviso at Stade Aime Giral tomorrow night.

New Zealand fly-half superstar Dan Carter arrives to spearhead Perpignan’s Heineken Cup challenge in December, so a Treviso side that contains former Wasps centre Fraser Waters and ex-Northampton utility back Andy Vilk might be glad of an early appointment with the Catalans.

In the second-tier European Challenge Cup, Bristol take on Montpellier tomorrow night, with their French hosts featuring former All Blacks scrum-half Justin Marshall and ex-Leicester centre Ollie Smith.

Bristol, bottom of the Guinness Premiership following five successive defeats, are in a demanding group that also includes Northampton and big-spending French outfit Toulon.

Bristol head coach Richard Hill said: “The away games are normally fairly tricky in Europe, but we will be looking to get something out of Friday’s game.

“We think we are in the toughest group in this year’s tournament, with two excellent French sides and obviously Northampton as well.

“But you never quite know with the French sides, as we found last year with Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup. It is very possible to catch them on an off-day.”

Irish challengers Connacht are also in Challenge Cup action tomorrow, travelling to south-west France for an appointment with Dax.