Tonight promises to be an emotional occasion when two of their longest servants, Anthony Horgan and Frank Sheahan, take to the Thomond Park stage for the last time in Munster colours. Both are on the bench and will be given game time.
Sheahan made his debut for Munster in November 1996 (v Western Samoa) while Horgan’s came eight months later in the interprovincial against Connacht. Since then between them they have won more than 300 competitive caps. Horgan’s career record of 38 tries includes 14 in the Heineken Cup.
Munster supporters will also get an opportunity to bid farewell to Federico Pucciariello, Mike Prendergast and Kieran Lewis, after which Munster will be presented with the Magners League trophy.
While the Ospreys travelled yesterday without some big names, Munster team manager Shaun Payne explained why the deposed Heineken Cup champions would utilise their stars.
“The guys going on the Lions tour need matches to prepare themselves for South Africa; people can just as easily get injured in training, so we felt it appropriate to select certain individuals for this game. It’s a big match; we’re obviously disappointed at losing the Heineken Cup semi-final but we’re delighted to have wrapped up the Magners League title with a couple of games to go,” he said.
Ospreys coach Sean Holley took a different stance: “The guys going to South Africa have served us well all season; we want to make sure they report for duty in good health to allow them represent the club, country and the Lions to the best of their ability.”
But the game marks a milestone for Sonny Parker; it’s his 100th Ospreys appearance. David Evans, who makes his debut for the club on the left wing.
Holley wishes the trip to Limerick could have offered something more than aspiring to closing the gap at the top of the table to a point or two.
He said: “Obviously we have regrets that we aren’t going there chasing silverware. They say that it’s your away form that wins you leagues, and our away form has been pretty good. We have won at Connacht, Glasgow, Ulster and had two good derby wins, but unfortunately, we’ve stumbled at home since the turn of the year, losing at home to Munster and Leinster, and then the late defeat to Edinburgh recently.”
Holley did promise that his side would be competitive, saying “The boys selected are certainly fired up for the game, they aren’t approaching it as an end of season chuck about. There are plenty of players with a point to prove. We have guys who haven’t been selected for Wales, and some of the team have bad memories of their last visit to Thomond Park; we have some youngsters and new faces who want to make an impact so it’s an exciting prospect.”
Meanwhile Connacht coach Michael Bradley has promoted Adrian Flavin to the starting line up for the final game of the Magners League against Glasgow at the Firhill arena tonight (7.45pm).
Sean Cronin, one of five Connacht players included in Declan Kidney’s Irish squad for the summer tour to Canada and the USA, could be given a rest. The plan is for him not to have to come off the bench if possible.
Cronin, and the remainder of the Irish party, depart for Vancouver on Sunday to prepare for the opening Test against the Canadians, whom Ireland will also meet in the Churchill Cup tournament in Colorado a few weeks later.
Academy player Conor Higgins, a promising 20-year old prop from Shannonbridge in Offaly, is included among the replacements for tonight’s game.
MUNSTER: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, L Mafi, I Dowling; R O’Gara, P Stringer; F Pucciariello, D Fogarty, T Buckley; M O’Driscoll, P O’Connell (capt); D Leamy, D Wallace, N. Ronan.
Replacements: F Sheahan, Dave Ryan, D O’Callaghan, J O’Sullivan, M Prendergast, A Horgan, K Lewis.
OSPREYS: G Owen; A Beck, S Parker, J Spratt, D Evans; J Hook, J Nutbrown; P James, R Hibbird, C Griffiths; I Gough, A Lloyd; R Jones (captain), F Tiatia, M Holoh.
Replacements: S Baldwin, D Jones, C Mitchell, R Kelly, S Tandy, R Wells, D Biggar.
CONNACHT: T Nathan; F Carr, G Duffy, K Matthews, L Bibo; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney; M Swift, A Farley; A Browne, R Ofisa, J Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: S Cronin, C Higgins, D Gannon, C Rigney, C O’Loughlin, A Dunne, M Deane.
GLASGOW: B Stortoni; L Fa’atau; H O’Hare; G Morrison; C Shaw; R Jackson; C Gregor; K Tkachuk; F Thomson; M Low; R Gray; A Kellock (capt); J Eddie; K Brown; C Forrester.
Replacements: P MacArthur; J Welsh; D Turner; S Swindall; M McMillan; P Horne; JM Nunez Piossek.