Munster braced for bruising battle

Rassie Erasmus may still be learning the ropes as far as Munster’s Guinness PRO12 opponents are concerned but when it comes to today’s visitors to Thomond Park, the South African knows exactly what to expect from Edinburgh and his old coach Alan Solomons.

The Scots will pitch up in Limerick looking for their second win of the new season and to bounce back from last week’s 33-20 home defeat to Leinster. They have been far from convincing in this campaign, Ulster gaining a bonus-point win over Edinburgh in Belfast in the opening round before Solomons’ outfit eked out a 20-9 win at Murrayfield over a misfiring Scarlets.

Just three games into his term as Munster’s first director of rugby Erasmus has been leaning on the experience of head coach Anthony Foley and assistants Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones for the inside track on opposition teams. Yet he understands the challenge that lies ahead from a team coached by the man he worked with at Test level when Solomons was part of the Springboks backroom team in the late 1990s.

“We are getting to know teams. Axel, Jerry and Felix’s knowledge about the opposition help a lot. I played under Alan Solomons in South Africa a lot and know one or two of the players who play there,” Erasmus said. “It’s certainly a very abrasive style, dominating forwards and good enough backs to make you challenge in a lot of areas. They are an exceptionally physical team. With the physicality, they came back into it (against Leinster) so they are very tough at the breakdown, they are mauling really well and they vary the game very well. It is a different challenge compared to the first three games.”

Erasmus was pleased with the way his squad rebounded from the round two Cork defeat by Cardiff Blues with a 20-16 victory at Newport Gwent Dragons last Saturday. For his first game in charge at Thomond Park he has made five changes from last weekend, calling on a fit-again Keith Earls for his seasonal debut following his late withdrawal with a tight hamstring seven days ago. Earls starts at outside centre, forming a new midfield partnership with last week’s try-scorer Cian Bohane, making his first competitive Munster start having made his debut in May 2013, as Munster attempt to cope without long-term injury absentees Francis Saili and Sam Arnold, shorter-term concerns Rory Scannell (neck) and Collie O’Shea (concussion) and the still unavailable Jaco Taute. There is a further change in the backline where Ian Keatley becomes the third starting full-back this season after Simon Zebo fractured a rib at Scarlets and Andrew Conway was concussed against the Dragons. Keatley is just five short of reaching 1,000 points for Munster.

The pack sees Erasmus rotate his forwards, with Dave Kilcoyne making his first start of the season at loosehead prop, swapping his place on the bench with James Cronin, while Dave O’Callaghan’s return at blindside flanker sees captain Billy Holland return to the second row to partner Jean Kleyn having made 21 tackles in the back row a week ago.

Donnacha Ryan reverts to the bench where he joins, amongst others, fit-again tighthead Stephen Archer, who makes his first matchday squad of the season after a neck injury, and potential debutant as an outside backs replacement Alex Wotton.

Solomons, meanwhile, makes seven changes from the Leinster defeat to his Edinburgh side and although he is able to give seasonal debuts to No.8 Cornell du Preez and scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Munster will eye an opportunity to build a platform from their scrum with the visitors missing Scotland front-rowers Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel. Furthermore, Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist and Fijian Olympic sevens gold medallist Viliame Mata are absent from the second row.

MUNSTER:

I Keatley; D Sweetnam, K Earls, C Bohane, R O’Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland -captain; D O’Callaghan, J O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.

Replacements:

D Casey, J Cronin, S Archer, D Ryan, C Oliver, D Williams, D Goggin, A Wootton.

EDINBURGH:

G Bryce, D Hoyland, M Allen, C Dean, T Brown; D Weir, S Hidalgo-Clyne; R Sutherland, S McInally – captain, K Bryce; F McKenzie, B Toolis; M Bradbury, H Watson, C Du Preez.

Replacements:

N Cochrane, J Cosgrove, A Dell, L Carmichael, J Hardie, S Kennedy, B Kinghorn, R Scholes.

Referee:

Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

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