Further evidence of the influence of West Cork rugby in the Munster team has come with the inclusion of Rosscarbery flanker John Hodnett for his first Guinness Pro 14 start — against South African side Southern Kings — at Musgrave Park this evening, kick-off 7. 35.
There is no disguising the links that have bonded Munster and Racing 92 since Ronan O’Gara began his coaching journey in Paris in 2013. Donnacha Ryan, Simon Zebo, and Mike Prendergast have since found their way to the Top 14 outfit while the relationship between the European rivals has also been strengthened on a deeper emotional level by the tragic and sudden death of Anthony Foley in the city i
For all the positive reviews of Munster’s adventurous attacking innovations under new senior coach Stephen Larkham, the lack of tries in December has underlined the reality that the province’s brave new world remains very much a work in progress.
For a coach still only weeks into his Munster tenure, Graham Rowntree’s affinity with his new surroundings is clear and obvious. Yet the forwards coach also knows that while his connection to the province and the players he works with has been immediate, the task of getting it and them to where they need to be will require patience and a lot more time.
Stephen Larkham says he knew all about how special the Irish interprovincial games are long before he arrived on these shores, and while the provinces are set to be shorn of their World Cup players for most of the Christmas period, he’s looking forward to the derby games.
One man’s setback appears to be an opportunity for a couple of his team-mates as Johnny Sexton’s likely absence from the start of the Six Nations seems to have opened the door for a pair of Munster stars to take centre-stage with Ireland in the coming weeks.
Ask any Munster supporter their thoughts on the Saracens personnel coming to Thomond Park this evening and they will take the matchday squad named by Mark McCall yesterday in a heartbeat. Ask the Munster coaching group the same question and they will not be taking anything for granted.
The clock ticked past 83 minutes, Munster kicked for the corner on the last play of the game, with the backs and forwards uniting to drive the ball over the line for the bonus-point win. I had to double-check the TV replay to make sure it wasn’t O’Gara kicking to the five-metre line, Sheahan throwing to O’Connell in the lineout, or Jason Holland joining the maul to drive it over the line.
This may be a pool of death Munster are facing into as the 25th Heineken Champions Cup campaign gets underway this weekend but the fixture schedule has at least handed Johann van Graan’s side the most palatable of introductions, albeit away, with a trip to off-form Ospreys.
Follow live updates below or across social media, with expert analysis and insight from our panel of Irish Examiner columnists Ronan O'Gara and Donal Lenihan, who are joined on stage by Munster Rugby's Johann van Graan and Stephen Larkham.