Penney keeps star trio waiting

Munster head coach Rob Penney has resisted the urge to start returning Test backs Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray and Keith Earls in tomorrow night’s RaboDirect Pro12 tussle with Ulster, having named the Ireland trio on the bench for the Ravenhill derby.

Scrum-half Murray, fly-half O’Gara and centre Earls were made available this weekend, for the first time this season, under the IRFU’s player welfare protocols but will be eased into action as Penney rewards the players who have earned him two wins from his first two league starts since succeeding Tony McGahan as head coach this summer.

Not that Murray, in line for his first experience of playing at Ravenhill, is too concerned, the 23-year-old expressing his delight at finally getting his season up and running.

“It’s been a bit frustrating these last few weeks, watching the lads playing so well,” Murray said yesterday. “I’m just itching to go so hopefully I’ll get off the bench this weekend and get a bit of a run-out, get a few of the old cobwebs out.”

Murray is also keen to play his part in the new, more expansive game plan adopted by Penney.

“Rob’s running a different style of play and the lads have adapted well. We’ve seen glimpses of it in the last few games, it is very promising but we’re still getting to grips with it, finishing off little bits of it. But it is exciting and I can’t wait to get involved and see how I fare.

“A lot of us haven’t played the style Rob’s brought in, so with it being completely new to a lot of players there will be mistakes. But, definitely, in the games we’ve been watching in pre-season and the two Rabos so far, there have been glimpses that it will work, there will be space there and it can be very exciting.

“It is frustrating but that’s going to come, we have to bear it and get on with it and hopefully it will flourish soon.”

Murray is also adapting to the new rule on global trial this season that states the team in possession now has five seconds to use the ball in a ruck once it is available.

“You have to be a lot more clinical and effective getting out of your own half this year and a bit quicker. Last year with long rucks you could take your time, get your kick-chase set. However, you’re under more pressure to get that done quicker this time. We’re just going to have to adapt and get on with it and do it as best we can.”

The only changes from the side that beat Treviso 19-6 at Thomond Park last Friday involve recalling Donncha O’Callaghan to the second row.

Dave Kilcoyne replaces Wian Du Preez at loosehead prop with the former Springbok rested completely and Marcus Horan coming onto the bench. At tighthead, BJ Botha returns with Stephen Archer, singled out by the head coach for his 72-minute contribution against Treviso, named as a replacement.

After an impressive seasonal debut in the opening win at Edinburgh, lock O’Callaghan was a late withdrawal against the Italians when his wife went into labour with their second child. O’Callaghan returns at the expense of Dave Foley.

With Duncan Williams starting at scrum-half for the third game in succession, Murray’s inclusion on the bench means no place in the squad for Peter Stringer, who must settle instead for a start in the Munster A team which faces their Ulster compatriots tomorrow at Belfast Harlequins.

Ivan Dineen and Scott Deasy also drop out of the senior match day squad to start a game that will also see openside flanker Niall Ronan play his first game since incurring a knee injury last January.

MUNSTER (v Ulster): D Hurley; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, J Downey, L O’Dea; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, S Dougall, J Coughlan.

Replacements: M Sherry, M Horan, S Archer, D Foley, T O’Donnell, C Murray, R O’Gara, K Earls.

MUNSTER A (v Ulster A): S Scanlon; R O’Mahony, D Barnes, JJ Hanrahan, I Dineen; S Deasy, P Stringer; J Cronin, S Henry, C Condon; P Donnellan, B Hayes; N Ronan, B O’Mahony, P Butler.

Replacements: D Casey, K Griffin, A Cotter, C O’Flaherty, S Buckley, C Sheridan, C Hircock, C Bohane.

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