With more than one eye on the following week’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against French powerhouse Toulouse, Munster head coach Rob Penney is believed to want Hurley to audition alongside Casey Laulala for the job of shackling Gael Fickou and fit-again Florian Fritz when the four-time European champions visit Thomond Park for the first time on April 5.
James Downey played number 12 and scored a try in the hard-fought win over Treviso last Saturday as Munster played their first game in three weeks, but Hurley, 29, has undergone something of a conversion from back three player to inside centre. The Corkman played at 12 twice for Munster A in the B&I Cup before Penney paired him in midfield with Laulala for the first time in the 54-13 win over Cardiff last month and renewed their partnership as Munster lost at Scarlets on March 1.
Were Hurley (pictured) to be deployed at inside centre again this weekend against league leaders Leinster, it would be the first time Penney has broken up the Downey-Laulala pairing in a big game since they all arrived at the province in the summer of 2012.
Penney leaves at the end of the season for a coaching job in Japan, Laulala heads for France and Downey’s contract situation is unresolved beyond this campaign. Munster’s midfield is clearly an area of concern, with Penney using seven different combinations in 2013-14, with Ivan Dineen and Ian Keatley used at 12 and Johne Murphy and Keith Earls in at 13 on occasions.
Munster look set to have more familiar backline combinations tomorrow with a likely back three of Felix Jones, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo. Conor Murray will return at scrum-half with fly-half Ian Keatley.