Brian Walsh hails model professional Francis Saili

Assistant coach Brian Walsh will be looking for new signing Francis Saili to bring an extra dimension to Munster’s play in tonight’s final pre-season friendly against London Irish at Musgrave Park (7pm).

Brian Walsh hails model professional Francis Saili

Walsh has noted the influence Saili is exerting on the younger players since his recent arrival and believes that will grow in the months ahead: “The guy is an All-Black. To get to that standard you need a lot of very strong characteristics.

“He has been very good for us. From a leadership point of view he has been very productive in terms of the way he talks around the group, the standards etc, and obviously he has a very strong skill set.

“I think it is very important for Munster that when players like that come in they can add value, not just on the pitch but also off it. It is early days, but he has been a model professional so far.”

Munster Head Coach Anthony Foley has named Saili in his side, the New Zealander playing alongside Rory Scannell in the middle of the pitch, with 18 year-old Bill Johnston given a first start at ten in a team captained by CJ Stander.

Johnston’s brother David is in the replacements while Scannell’s brother Niall is also named on the bench. Foley is giving game time to promising Academy player Stephen Fitzgerald on one wing, but keeps experience in the form of Gerhard van der Heever on the other for his third consecutive start. In total, he has made nine changes from the team defeated by Connacht.

Assistant coach Walsh earlier this week stressed the importance of winning after successive losses to Grenoble and Connacht.

Speaking of the Pro12 opener against Treviso next week, he said: “It is very important, everyone wants to get off to a good start. It is a hard league to catch up in because it is so competitive. I think we saw that with Connacht last weekend.

“We rocked up, pre-season friendly, getting a few things right, but they brought a real focus and intensity to it. I think that will give you an idea of the standard of what we are going to go into at the start of the league. We need to be ready for that.

“We feel we have the personnel to do that this year. I would hope the likes of Francis Saili and Mark Chisholm will attract supporters. People will come to look at these guys.”

London Irish Head Coach, Tom Coventry has handed Matt Symons the captain’s armband on his debut and Eoin Sheriff and Dominic Waldouck also play with the club for the first time. Former international Tom Court, Conor Gilsenan and Eoin Sheriff are in the starting line up.

Coventry said: “We have had a good week in Ireland and we are looking forward to the challenge, the fixture will give us a good indication of where we are seven weeks out from the start of the Premiership season.”

The big news from Leinster is that Isa Nacewa is back in action against Moseley in Donnybrook tonight (7.30pm).

Nacewa will be joined by fellow heavyweights Gordon D’Arcy, Mike McCarthy, Michael Bent and skipper Kevin McLaughlin, but there are several new and less experienced faces in the team, amongst them Irish under 20 back rower Peadar Timmons who lines out at number eight.

New head coach Leo Cullen has made ten changes from the team that started last week’s game against Ulster. Leinster came from behind to make a winning start to their pre-season itinerary.

With Connacht enjoying a free weekend, Ulster travel to play Edinburgh in Goldenacre tonight (6.30 pm).

MUNSTER:

A Conway; S Fitzgerald, F Saili, R Scannell, G van den Heever; B Johnston, C Sheridan; J Ryan, M Sherry, S Archer; J Madigan, D Foley; D O’Callaghan, J Coghlan, CJ Stander (captain).

Replacements from:

N Scannell, J Cronin, BJ Botha, D O’Callaghan, R Copeland, D Williams, I Keatley, S Monahan, S Buckley, M D’Arcy, D Johnston.

LONDON IRISH:

A Fenby; A Lewington, E Griffin, D Waldouck, T Ojo; T Brophy-Clews, S Steele; T Court, G Ellis, R Palframan; E Sheriff, M Symons (captain); L Narraway, C Gilesnan, D Sisi.

LEINSTER:

I Nacewa; A Byrne, C O’Shea, G D’Arcy, M McGrath; C Marsh, L McGrath; P Dooley, A Dundon, M Bent; T Denton, M McCarthy; K McLaughlin (captain), D Leavy, P Timmins.

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