Coach Declan Kidney will finalise his starting line-up this afternoon after some of the 26 strong panel have been tested for knocks and bruises following the side’s hectic recent programme.
This is Munster’s third game in ten days and will be followed by a couple of Heineken European Cup matches against Castres next Friday night and Sale Sharks on January 14 before yet another clash with Newport Gwent Dragons a week later.
The need to rest people like Denis Leamy, who started three internationals in November and followed up with five matches for Munster in December, is paramount and that is why Keogh is likely to wear the number six jersey at Murrayfield.
Dowling has shown impressive form for his club in the All-Ireland League and may also start. It remains to be seen whether Jeremy Manning and Tomás O’Leary, both of whom performed so creditably in the recent win over Connacht, will start on this occasion, not least because Ronan O’Gara took a nasty facial knock last week, and Peter Stringer could also do with a breather. “I will travel with 22 players if it is at all possible,” said Kidney. “I have always been conscious of the fact that the success of the Munster team was built on the clubs. They have been helpful to us and we try to be fair to them. We work it together as best we can. But if I gamble on 22 and some of them subsequently aren’t fit, then there’s a problem. I think the only time I picked the same team from one week to the next was in the two matches against the Dragons.”
Edinburgh’s interim head coach is New Zealander Todd Blackadder. He makes no secret of his belief that this fixture could hardly have come at a better time, suspecting that Munster’s morale may be low following defeat to Leinster. He includes internationals of the calibre of All Black prop David Hewett, Argentine wing Francisco Leonelli, Australian centre Peter Jorgensen and Scots Chris Paterson, Simon Taylor, Scott Murray and Hugo Southwell and has made just two changes to the side that defeated the Border Reivers 30-25 at Murrayfield on St Stephen’s Day.
Leonelli returns in place of Simon Webster and Hewett also rejoins the side for Allan Jacobsen.
“This is a great opportunity against the front runners in the Celtic League”, said Blackadder. “We’ve had a good break and the players have come back refreshed. We needed that mentally as well as physically and we are all ready to go out there with a lot of enthusiasm.
“We picked up five points from our game against the Reivers but we knew our match against Munster was coming up. They are top of the league but we will be playing at home. We’ve had a good start to the Celtic League season and that is something that we should be really proud of. We’ve got a good strong, quality side.”
Meanwhile, Connacht hope to continue their newly-found winning ways when they travel to Wales to face the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade this evening (7.10).
Having overcome a shell-shocked Ulster, Connacht will be hoping Saturday’s victory is a turning point in their Celtic League campaign which has seen them close the gap on fellow strugglers, the Ospreys and the Dragons. A doubt remains over Andrew Farley and Andrew Gallagher has been named among the replacements in a 23 man squad.
Mark McHugh is in the match day 22 for the first time this season having recovered from injury.
: H. Southwell; C. Paterson capt, M. DiRollo, P. Jorgensen, F. Leonelli; P. Godman, M. Blair; D. Hewett, D. Hall, C. Smith, A. Kellock, S. Murray, A. Hogg, S. Taylor, S. Cross.
: A. Kelly, A. Dickinson, A. Strokosch, A. MacDonald, R. Lawson, M. Dey, M. Pyke.
: S. Payne, J. Kelly, B. Murphy, G. Connolly, A. Horgan, I. Dowling, T. Halstead, R. O’Gara, J. Manning, P. Stringer, T. O’Leary; M. Horan, J. Flannery, F. Pucciarello, J. Hayes, D. Fogarty, T. Buckley, P. O’Connell, M. O’Driscoll, D. O’Callaghan, T. Hogan, D. Leamy, D. Wallace, A. Foley capt, S. Keogh, J. O’Connor.
: M Mostyn, J Hearty, A Mailei, K Matthews, C McPhillips, D Slemen, C Keane; D McFarland, J Merrigan, A Clarke, C Short, D Gannon/A Farley, M Swift, M Lacey, C Rigney.
: J Fogarty, S Knoop, D Gannon/A Gallagher, B O’Connor, T Tierney, M McHugh, P Warwick.
: Hugh Watkins (Wales).