The game is listed as a friendly and Rob Penney’s first choice 15 is outstripped by the 19 named on the replacements bench, most of whom will see game time over the 80 minutes.
The 2002/’03 season will always be fondly remembered in Munster for the 33-6 victory that enabled them qualify for the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup. The survivors are Munster second row Donncha O’Callaghan and Gloucester’s James Simpson-Daniel and Andy Hazell.
The other well-known players in the visiting squad are Freddie Burns, seen by many as the next England out-half and already with three caps in his possession; All Black scrum-half Jimmy Cowen and Welsh second choice Tavis Knoyle. The powerful England No 8 Ben Morgan; 75-time capped England centre Mike Tindall and Billy Twelvetrees, one of the many replacements called up by the Lions during the summer tour of Australia.
Number eight James Coughlan leads a Munster side shorn some big-name players but also brimming with the experience of O’Callaghan, Niall Ronan, Casey Laulala, Denis Hurley and Johne Murphy, while young guns Andrew Conway, Ivan Dinneen, James Cronin and CJ Stander also line out.
One of those anxious to lay down a marker is Conway, who makes his debut having joined from Leinster. The expansive game favoured by Rob Penney sits nicely with the former Blackrock College star.
“One of my reasons for coming down here was watching Munster wings touching the ball more than most others, the likes of Zebs [Simon Zebo], Dougie [Howlett]. They were getting on the ball in all parts of the pitch, not just on the wing, coming into the line, running off 10, 12, almost like they had a free rein and were allowed to go for it.”
Today’s game is followed by a Musgrave Park clash with London Irish on Friday before the competitive stuff begins with another outing at the Cork venue against Edinburgh in the RaboDirect Pro12 on September 7. After that, the emphasis switches to Italy and games against Zebre and Benetton Treviso, the plan being to go into camp there for the intervening week.
“Niall O’Donovan [team manager] did some great lobbying on our behalf so that we have two away games in Italy which means we are able to stay over rather than travelling back and forth,” explained Rob Penney. “We’ll get through the rugby stuff and then have a bit of time around Lake Garda getting into the water and recovering and preparing well. It gives us an opportunity to focus on what we need to achieve.”
MUNSTER: D Hurley; A Conway, C Laulala, I Dinneen, J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin, M Sherry, J Ryan, D O’Callaghan, B Holland, CJ Stander, N Ronan, J Coughlan. Replacements: N Scannell, D Casey, A Cotter, S Archer, P Ryan, I Nagle, D Foley, D Kenny, W Ryan, S Buckley, B O’Mahony, C Sheridan, G Hurley, JJ Hanrahan, J Holland, C Bohane, M Kelleher, N Kenneally, R O’Mahony.