Even the reassurance provided by a 12 months contract extension hasn’t changed the reality facing Munster coach Anthony Foley and his team in the concluding weeks of the Guinness PRO12 campaign. The first of those ‘cup final’ games comes tonight away to the Cardiff Blues (7.15pm).
A victory will send Munster into the top four, at least for this week, and poised to launch a dramatic challenge for honours that seemed unimaginable in recent months. Defeat will plunge the season into crisis with every danger that they will miss out on the lucrative semi-finals of the league and fail qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup.
Foley makes five changes from the side that defeated the Dragons a fortnight ago. Dave Foley, Jack O’Donoghue, James Cronin and Dave Kilcoyne have been released by Ireland while Ronan O’Mahony has recovered from a hamstring injury and returns on the left wing. Sean McCarthy, a nephew of Munster legend Mick Galwey, is in the replacements and looks set to make his Pro 12 debut.
One of those charged with providing Munster with the forward advantage so crucial in these games is Dave O’Callaghan who shone against Newport Gwent Dragons. More accustomed to the blind side flank berth, he wears the number seven jersey tonight with Munster needing another strong contribution from the Youghal native.
He admitted: “Having won our last two games, we have a bit of confidence and momentum. They have a big pack, they’re abrasive and have a back line that likes to run it from anywhere. They have some big ball carriers, guys good at the breakdown like Josh Navidi, Manoa Vosawai and Josh Turnbull.
“They will look to win that physical battle up front and that’s something we will relish.”
Foley’s Blues counterpart Danny Wilson hands a first PRO12 appearance to the American Eagles international Cam Dolan who partners the experienced Josh Turnbull in the second-row. They are also strengthened by the return at scrum-half of Welsh star Lloyd Williams in a side that shows six changes from that which lost narrowly away to Glasgow last time out. Wilson said: “We showed in the second half against Glasgow that we could play well enough to claim a bonus point up there. Munster have been one of the best sides in the Guinness PRO12 and Europe over a number of years so it’s a big test.”
Leinster have sold 35,000 tickets for the Guinness PRO12 game against Munster on April 2 in the Aviva Stadium.
D Fish ; A Summerhill, G Smith, R Lee-Lo, B Scully; R Patchell, L Williams; B Thyer, M Rees capt, S Ma’afu, C Dolan, J Turnbull, M Cook, E Jenkins, J Navidi.
K Dacey, T Davies, T Filise, L Reed, M Vosawai, L Jones, J Evans, G Evans.
A Conway; D Sweetnam, F Saili, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin, M Sherry, J Ryan, D Foley, B Holland capt, J O’Donoghue, D O’Callaghan, R Copeland.
N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, S Archer, S McCarthy, J Coghlan, C Sheridan, J Holland, D Johnston.