It was going to be extremely difficult to repeat the level of intensity that proved too much for the defending champions.
Accordingly, the Munster think-tank and players have been hard at work all week to ensure that any semblance of complacency isn’t allowed to creep into their play against the Scarlets at Thomond Park tonight.
Foley acknowledges that a win against the resurgent Welsh side is vital if only because another home defeat coming on the back of earlier setbacks against Edinburgh and Ospreys would be a real downer after the heroics of last week and would be very hard for their loyal supporters to take.
Even so, he has opted to make seven changes from the Leinster game, with the return to the starting 15 of skipper Peter O’Mahony the major talking point. He resumes his normal position on the blind side of the scrum with the in-form Tommy O’Donnell on the other flank and CJ Stander moving to No 8 ahead of Roger Copeland, named among the replacements.
The battle for the starting place in the two upcoming European Champions Cup games against Sale and Saracens moves another stage forward this evening.
Paul O’Connell, a power-house on every appearance this season, takes a well deserved rest, with Billy Holland partnering Dave Foley in the engine room. As if to keep all his front-rowers on their toes, Foley has named a completely new trio of Dave Kilcoyne, Kevin O’Byrne and BJ Botha. However, the inclusion of the Argentinian Eusebio Guinazu in the replacements and the absence of the injured Duncan Casey and Damien Varley suggests that a potential crisis looms ever larger in the hooker position.
JJ Hanrahan makes his first start of the season at No 10 while Ivan Dineen and Gerhard van den Heever return in the three-quarter line for Denis Hurley and Andew Conway.
Interestingly, Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has also altered his entire front row following last week’s 26-13 defeat of the Dragons. That result has been a major boost for their confidence, according to the coach.
“We’re improving bit by bit and the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place,” he maintains. “At this time of year we need that. Getting four points from last weekend’s game was what we needed. If we look at Munster from the loss at home against Edinburgh to where they are now — they’ve also made improvements all the way through. The energy levels and physicality they brought to the Leinster game over 80 minutes was impressive.
“They’ll test us defensively and there’s no doubt it’ll be a physical encounter.”
How physical, of course, remains to be seen. Munster are rarely the same team without O’Connell’s driving influence, although the return of O’Mahony is sure to help, while the very apparent competition for places at No 8, front row, out-half and in the three-quarter line in the build-up to the European challenge should guarantee all-out effort.
Scarlets, however, are unlikely to be close to a pushover with Rhys Priestland as always a major influence at out-half and providing a worthy contest for Hanrahan, while the presence of seasoned campaigners in the pack such as Phil John, Rhodri Jones, Jake Ball and Scotland’s John Barclay ensures a very tough battle up front.
MUNSTER: F Jones; G van den Heever, W Smith, I Dineen, S Zebo; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, K O’Byrne, BJ Botha, D Foley, B Holland,P O’Mahony (capt), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: E Guinazu, J Cronin, S Archer, D O’Callaghan, R Copeland, D Williams, I Keatley, J Murphy.
SCARLETS: L Williams; H Robinson, G Owen, S Williams (capt), K Phillips; R Priestland, A Davies; P John, K Myhill, R Jones, J Ball, J Snyman, A Shingler, J Barclay, R Pitman.
Replacements: E Phillips, R Evans, S Lee, G Earle, J Davies, R Williams, S Shingler, M Tagicakibua.
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy).