Munster v Edinburgh
Having played his way into the Heineken Cup teams after Christmas, Tommy O’Donnell will be quietly disappointed he starts tonight’s RaboDirect Pro12 tie against Edinburgh from the bench.
The 25-year-old Tipperary flanker is one of a large number of back-row forwards trying to catch Declan Kidney’s eye and so regarded this game as vital in his pursuit of further recognition, having played in the recent Irish Wolfhounds game against the English Saxons.
However, the wing-forward positions have been handed to Sean Dougall and CJ Stander, both injury victims for much of the season, with the latter returning to the side after breaking a bone in his hand on December 1.
Damien Varley is first choice hooker in Musgrave Park, with Mike Sherry among the replacements along with O’Donnell.
With 12 frontline players unavailable to Rob Penney, the 23-man squad is an indication of the strength in depth available to Munster’s head coach.
There is a first start of the season for centres Danny Barnes and Ivan Dinneen while JJ Hanrahan, Johne Murphy and Ian Nagle have opportunities to impress.
“This is an area of the season we have always targeted to pick up points so that we can be in a better position when the international lads come back,” said O’Donnell.
“You want to raise your game, you want to tell those lads, ‘we’re playing well and we’re going to be winning games when you’re away’.
“There’s a very good depth of squad, a lot of quality players in the B & I Cup squad. I played B & I Cup during the first two rounds of the Heineken Cup and yet was involved in the last rounds of the Heineken.
“The system is there where you have the ability to go all the way up from B & I to Ireland.”
Having had an initial taste of the big time with the national squad, O’Donnell relishes the prospect of more of the same.
He said: “It was great to see how it operates and see the next level. Hopefully, I can push on now and let my game speak for itself. Munster and Ireland have always had great depth in the back row, it seems that as soon as one person steps aside or gets injured somebody else pushes through and seizes the opportunity.
“You’d be afraid at times to miss a game because you just want to keep playing and hold on to your spot.”
Munster are hoping for a first win of the season at Musgrave Park against Edinburgh, who are also shorn of players due to injury and the Six Nations. Nevertheless, coach Michael Bradley welcomes back long term injury victims, Welsh prop John Yapp, South African second row Izak Van der Westhuizen and Scottish wing Tom Brown.
“The international window is a challenging time for all of the squads so we’re delighted to welcome back three quality players,” said the Corkman. “There’s a good and dangerous balance to our side. There’s a lot of size, power and mobility in our pack and there’s a good bit of pace and guile in the backs. Munster are three from three against us this season so will be full of confidence going into another home game.”
Quite frankly, the Scots are enduing a miserable season and have little to play for, while O’Donnell put his finger on Munster’s priorities.
He stressed: “We’ve had a few poor results but we’re only two points off fourth and if we win this and a few results go our way, we can be right up there again. At this time of the season, it’s about building momentum and accruing points and putting yourself in a good position in April and May.”
Achieving that ambition should not be beyond Munster’s capacity tonight.
MUNSTER: D Hurley; J Murphy, I Dineen, JJ Hanrahan, D Barnes; I Keatley, D Williams; M Horan, D Varley, BJ Botha; I Nagle, B Holland; CJ Stander, S Dougall, J Coughlan (capt).
Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, J Ryan, D Foley, T O’Donnell, P Butler, C Sheridan, S Deasy.
EDINBURGH: G Tonks; D Fife, B Cairns, B Atiga, T Brown; P Francis, R Rees; J Yapp, A Titterill, W Nel, P Park, A Van der Westhuizen, S Cox (capt), S McInally, N Talei.
Replacements: S Lawrie, A Jacobsen, A Allan, G Gilchrist, H Watson, C Leck, G Hunter, L Jones.
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