With the benefit of having at his disposal Ronan O’Gara, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony, all made available by national coach Declan Kidney, McGahan didn’t have to be asked twice as to how many of them he would use. All three are in from the start.
McGahan has been a little less headstrong in relation to pushing returnees Tommy O’Donnell and Felix Jones too quickly into action. Both will, however, play a part from the bench.
O’Donnell, injured against Ulster in August, and Jones, out since Ireland’s World Cup warm-up match against France in August, should provide a big boost for McGahan and his coaching staff in the weeks and months ahead, especially considering the back row and back three injury woes suffered by the province right throughout the season.
Treviso coach Franco Smith has had some international returns too, but focus will mainly be on his Italian-Argentinean prop forward Pedro Di Santo who today reaches his 150th cap for the club, while Augusto Allori will be given centre stage to help him celebrate the 100th cap he earned last time out against the Ospreys in Swansea.
But most of all, Smith sees this match as a huge opportunity to make a mission statement. “To beat the champions would be a wonderful achievement,” he said.
Not that Munster will be remotely under-prepared for that threat; having lost on the same ground around the same time last year (18-19), it’s a result assistant coach Anthony Foley figures hasn’t been forgotten.
“We’ve studied them in some depth,” he said, “they are very impressive, very innovative, with a lot of peculiarities, I suppose is the word, in the way they defend. Sometimes their winger plays scrum half off scrums, sometimes their ten defends off the back of the line out, they tend to throw completely different challenges up to the opposition, so they obviously have an excellent coaching setup; in short, they’re always willing to try (different) stuff.
“It’s good for the league that teams like Treviso are progressing in Europe. It’s good for everyone, it makes our league very credible and very competitive and we know that from 12 months ago when we got a late try to help the score-line a bit, but we were really dusted that day. They put a number on us so we have that in our memory banks as well going over there.”
Foley is also pleased at the prospects of a return for O’Donnell and Jones.
“With injuries to Niall Ronan, David Wallace and Denis Leamy in the back row, we were pretty decimated and it’s great to have Tommy back. Having Felix around the squad is like a breath of fresh air, he’s vocal and enthusiastic. Everything is done sharply with Felix; he strives for success for himself and others by pushing them around.”
The postponement of Munster’s game with Aironi last week caused problems for the squad, although not anything as disruptive as Ireland’s experience in Paris. “At least,” said Foley, “we didn’t have to make the journey, but it would have been nice to have had a week working with the squad in a different environment.”
BENETTON TREVISO: L Nitoglia, T Iannone, E Galon, A Sgarbi, B Williams, W De Waal, F Semenzato, M Muccignat, F Sbaraglini, P Di Santo, A Pavanello (captain), C Van Zyl, P Derbyshire, M Filippucci, B Vermaack.
Replacements: A Ceccato, A Allori, I F Rouyet, V Bernabo, G Padro, G Garcia, E Gori, A Di Bernardo
MUNSTER: D Hurley; J Murphy, D Barnes, L Mafi, S Zebo; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D Ryan, M O'Driscoll (captain), Dave O'Callaghan, J Coughlan, P O'Mahony.
Replacements: D Fogarty, M Horan, S Archer, B. Holland, T O'Donnell, D Williams, S Deasy, F Jones.