There could hardly be a more attractive pairing for the official reopening of the new Musgrave Park than tonight’s Guinness Pro12 clash of league leaders Glasgow
Warriors and Munster, four points behind them in a share of second place.
Glasgow have certainly played their part in reviving the image and traditions of Scottish rugby and dealt Munster a serious blow last season when beating them in a very tight and rather fractious Pro12 semi-final at Scotstoun.
They inflicted another defeat on Munster at the same venue this season so Anthony Foley’s men have a big point to prove in this encounter, not to mention at all the importance of the points at stake.
Foley continues to ring the changes and makes seven alterations from the side that snatched a last-minute draw at Scarlets last week.
Denis Hurley has again been named as captain and will lead the province for the third consecutive game. An all-new front row sees John Ryan and BJ Botha start on either side of Eusebio Guinazu.
Donncha O’Callaghan and Billy Holland continue in the second row with the Waterford youngster Jack O’Donoghue, who is given a massive vote of confidence after a try-scoring performance against the Scarlets, and Sean Dougall coming in to join CJ Stander in the back row.
It’s a case of as you were in the half-backs and midfield, with Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Denis Hurley and Keith Earls all retaining their starting positions, while two further changes see Ronan O’Mahony and JJ Hanrahan come in to join Andrew Conway in the back three.
Hanrahan certainly made a huge impression when coming in as a second-half replacement last week when defeat would surely have been Munster’s lot were it not for his considerable contribution to an unlikely draw that helped to earn two precious points.
After successfully rehabbing a knee injury sustained against Clermont Auvergne in December, centre Andrew Smith returns and is named amongst the replacements.
Warriors have only just once in the Pro12 since November and with so little separating the teams, coach Gregor Townsend is under no illusions as to the importance of the encounter.
“A number of players are set to make their debuts for the club this weekend, which is a big opportunity for them to show what they can do,” he said.
“After last weekend’s win over Ospreys, we now face another of the in-form teams in the league and we’ve had some massive games with Munster over the last couple of seasons. They are sitting second in the league, just four points behind us, so we’re well aware of the importance of this game.”
Flanker Adam Ashe makes his first appearance since picking up a neck injury while playing for Scotland against New Zealand last November. He will be joined in the back row by debutant Will Bordill, while there is a whole new half-back pairing of Murray McConnell and Connor Braid, who are both also making their first appearances for the club.
Alex Toolis, Tommy Spinks and D’arcy Rae are all among the replacements and will
also make their debuts should they come on.
Foley has been talking up the significance of the game in much the same was as Townsend.
“Glasgow are a top team who have been playing very well,” he acknowledges.
“Glasgow are probably the best side in the competition so far and they were very strong last year as well. This is an important game to set out where we want to go and to lay down a marker — we need to put in a good performance against teams like these if we have hopes of being league contenders. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
However, history is against Munster, who have lost the last three meetings between the two sides and have not won since a 13-6 victory at Scotstoun in October 2013.
Accordingly, the home side have the ideal opportunity to end knock that run for six and in the
process open the new “Musser” in the best possible way.
JJ Hanrahan; Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Denis Hurley Capt., Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Eusebio Guinazu, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland; Jack O’Donoghue, Sean Dougall, CJ Stander.
Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Dave O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Neil Cronin, Andrew Smith, Ivan Dineen.
P Murchie; N Matawalu, R Vernon, F Lyle, DTH van der Merwe; C Braid, M McConnell; A Allan, P MacArthur, R de Klerk, J Eddie, A Kellock capt, A Ashe, W Bordill, D Hall, J Yanuyanutawa, D Rae, A Toolis, T Spinks, G Bryce, L Jones, R Hughes.
N Owens (Wales).