O’Gara loss opens door for rising star Keatley

Ian Keatley has been charged with helping lift Munster into the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup after his expected elevation to the team that meets Racing Metro at Thomond Park tomorrow (12.45pm).

Keatley replaces veteran Ronan O’Gara in the pivotal number 10 position, just as he did in round two against Edinburgh when he produced an impressive performance in the 33-0 bonus point win.

This, however, is only Keatley’s third Heineken Cup start of the season having played full back in the opening game against the French side when Munster conceded two late penalties to lose the tie by five points.

O’Gara’s one week ban for an offence against Edinburgh last week comes as a blow, particularly given the player’s capabilities of steering Munster through difficult ties in the past, but already Keatley has been given a vote of confidence from several of his colleagues, amongst them O’Gara himself and key forward Donnacha Ryan. Former Munster hooker Jerry Flannery this week encouraged Keatley to go for broke, to be his own man, and not try to be a carbon copy of O’Gara.

The elevation of Keatley provides another opportunity for young JJ Hanrahan, who was withdrawn from last night’s Munster A team for the B&I cup fixture against Plymouth Albion in Cork.

Otherwise, not everything in the Munster camp is perfect – Felix Jones is suffering from a knee injury and Denis Hurley has been put on stand by, while Mike Sherry’s ankle injury still causes some concern. Damian Varley would be the obvious replacement there.

Racing arrive with a mixed bag of a team, intent on putting on a good show but with the Top 14 more in mind after being knocked out of contention for advancement. Amongst the team, however, is Olly Barkley, who made his first appearance for the club way back in November and he helped damage Munster’s future prospects by kicking one of the two match-winning penalties.

MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett (captain), K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; Ian Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.

Replacements: M Sherry, W du Preez, J Ryan, B Holland, P Butler, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, C Laulala.

RACING METRO 92: G Germain; J Jane, G Bousses, A Dumoulin, S Bobo; O Barkley, M Belie; J Brugnaut, B Noirot, B Salemane, K Ghezal, F Metz, A Battut, B Le Roux, J Cronje (captain).

Replacements: T Bianchin, A Lo Cicero, J Pablo Orlandi, J Qovu Nailiko, B Fall, S Dellape, S Descons, S Matadigo.

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