Opportunity knocks at Thomond

It seems the RaboDirect Pro12 this season is all about development.

Opportunity knocks at Thomond

Take, for instance, Munster’s new look side under the tutelage of Rob Penney and the introduction of a new Italian brand called Zebre.

Champions Ospreys, beaten finalists Leinster and many others have been looking down the line for new blood. In one sense it could be seen as frustrating for the coaches, in another it’s seen as an exciting time as articulated over and over by Penney.

Tonight at Thomond Park, the New Zealander gives another opportunity to a number of players coming in off the back of injury or those otherwise trying to lay down a marker for the future. Names like Felix Jones, Luke O’Dea, JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams and Dave Kilcoyne.

But for those who cast an eye on the make-up of the Zebre line-up, there will be a strangely unfamiliar Italian name in the squad sheet in prop Dave Ryan.

Ryan won’t be unfamiliar to many of the Munster players, however, having been in the provincial squad at various levels for three years until 2011. Now, the 26-year-old loose head lines out with the newest franchise in Europe and clearly will be delighted with the opportunity to have a go at proving himself to anyone who cares to look from his home patch.

Penney, et al, will hardly take too much notice of the side issues tonight, however. After a mixed bag of performances over the last few weeks —albeit most of them on the road — it is essential Munster get the Rabo campaign back on track.

Penney has rung the changes in the full knowledge he will have to rely mostly on the youngsters in his squad over the next six weeks when nine of his top players will be unavailable due to international commitments for the autumn international series.

It offers opportunity though, and Penney takes that on board by selecting Felix Jones from the start in a back division that also includes highly rated Hanrahan alongside Case Laulala. O’Dea is on the right wing, Williams at scrum-half, Kilcoyne at loose head, and both Dave O’Callaghan and Paddy Butler alongside Peter O’Mahony provide a youthful but strong presence in the back row.

There will be those who will wonder whether Penney might have been better advised to lean more heavily on experience, particularly given that he decided to rest Paul O’Connell. But, at least he had an automatic replacement for that scenario — indeed Donnacha Ryan will be delighted with the opportunity to move back from six to second-row.

Having spent half of last season doing time with Saracens and Newcastle in the Aviva Premiership before winning a new one-year contract, it’s unlikely veteran scrum-half Peter Stringer will be at all pleased with developments in the last week that has seen him apparently pushed from second to third choice and out of the matchday squad.

MUNSTER: F Jones; L O’Dea, C Laulala, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, P Butler.

Replacements: D Varley, M Horan, BJ Botha; B Holland, T O’Donnell; C Murray, J Murphy, D Hurley.

ZEBRE: R Trevisan, D Odiete, G Garcia, D Halangahu, M Pratichetti, A Chiesa, L Martinelli, S Perugini, A Mancini, L Redolfini, E Caffini, J Sole, F Ferranini, A Van Schalkwyk, F Cristiano.

Replacements: D Giazzon, M Aguero, D Ryan, F Cazzola, N Belardo, T Tebaldi, L Orquera, L Sarto.

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