Munster confront English rivals Leicester Tigers at Welford Road tonight (7.30pm) with the twin boost of having Marcus Horan and Donnacha Ryan available as coach Tony McGahan cranks up his team’s challenge for the new season.
So far, McGahan’s charges have enjoyed a 100% record after wins over Sale Sharks and London Irish, with young talent emerging and promising individual and team performances.
Tonight, in a side captained by Mick O’Driscoll, French international prop Julien Brugnaut makes a first start and the impressive Scott Deasy is named in the centre alongside Tom Gleeson, as Felix Jones gets his first start in the full-back position.
In a week when both Barry Murphy and Ian Dowling were ruled out of contention with “niggling injuries”, Jerry Flannery and Tomás O’Leary are both expected to be back in action for Munster before the end of September.
This weekend, James Coughlan will beat them to the punch. He is in the replacements for the trip to Leicester after recovering from pneumonia.
In advance of this friendly and the opening league clash away to Glasgow next weekend, flanker David Wallace predicted exciting times ahead.
The Lions star welcomed the fact the Magners League – starting next week – would culminate in a knockout phase of two semi-finals and a final.
“It certainly gives the clubs who provide many players to their respective national squads an opportunity to compete on a better level. It still gives the younger players a huge opportunity to challenge for places,” he said.
Wallace is ready for more rugby action despite having had to push his body through Munster’s long season, Ireland’s successful quest for the Grand Slam Six Nations title and then the Lions Tour to South Africa.
“I’m still in pre-season at the moment but I’m looking forward to playing again. The squad (Munster) has produced a couple of great wins and the younger players have certainly stood up to be counted.
“Guys like Ian Nagle and Danny Barnes, Scott Deasy and a few more have put in strong performances to suggest some of the newcomers will get a lot of chances this year.”
Leinster, meanwhile, will have captain Leo Cullen, Shane Horgan, Bernard Jackman and Jonathan Sexton back in action against London Irish at Donnybrook tonight (7pm) in a dress rehearsal for a Heineken Cup clash in six weeks.
Sexton partners Simon Keogh at half-back, with Fergus McFadden lining up alongside Shaun Berne at centre and Isa Nacewa reverting to the wing after starting at centre in last weekend’s 38-10 win over Nice Côte d’Azur.
Sean O’Brien starts in the back row alongside Shane Jennings and number eight Stephen Keogh.
London Irish has announced a strong 25-man squad for the game, 14 of whom are full internationals. Club captain Bob Casey, a former Leinster player will not take part in the match as he is recovering from injury.
Ulster coach Brian McLoughlin is hoping for another positive performance when his side take on Worcester at Sixways Stadium this evening (7.30pm).
“We’re hoping for a win but a performance is more important to give an opportunity to some younger players,” he said.
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Hurley, T Gleeson, S Deasy, D Barnes; P Warwick, P Stringer; M Horan, D Fogarty, J Brugnaut; M O’Driscoll capt, D Ryan; B Holland, N Ronan, D Leamy.
Replacements: D. Varley, D. Ryan, I. Nagle, T. O’Donnell, T. Morland, A. Burke, D. Riordan, S. Archer, J. Coughlan, R. O’Mahony.
ULSTER: B. Cunningham, T. Nagusa, A. Trimble, I. Whitten, N .Spence, I. Humphreys, I. Boss, B. Young, A. Kyuriacou, BJ Botha, D. Tuohy, R. Caldwell, C. Henry, W. Faloon, R. Diack.
Replacements: N. Brady, T. Court, D. Fitzpatrick, E. O’Donoghue, TJ Anderson, I. Porter, N. O’Connor, J. Shiels, D. Cave.
LEINSTER: N. Morris, S. Horgan, F. McFadden, S. Berne, I. Nacewa, J. Sexton, S. Keogh, R. McCormack, B. Jackman, S. Wright, L. Cullen (capt), D. Toner, S. O’Brien, S. Keogh, S. Jennings.
Replacements: J. Fogarty, J. Harris-Wright, C. Healy, M. Ross, M. O’Kelly, E. Sheriff, K. McLoughlin, C. Keane, D. Moore, P. O’Donohue, B. Ngawini, B. Macken, G. Dempsey.
CONNACHT (v Rotherham Titans): G Duffy; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, K Matthews, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; D Nolan, A Browne; J Muldoon (C), R Ofisa, M McComish.
Replacements: A Flavin, D Murphy, R Loughney, C Higgins, M Swift, B Upton, J O’Connor, C O’Loughlin, L Bibo, B Tuohy, T Nathan.
ULSTER ): B Young, A Kyriacou, BJ Botha, D Tuohy, R Caldwell, C Henry, W Faloon, R Diack, B Cunningham, T Nagusa, A Trimble, I Whitten, N Spence, I Humphreys, I Boss.