Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has made 10 changes from the side defeated by Saracens last Saturday for this evening’s Guinness PRO12 match away to Benetton Treviso (Stadio Monigo). But he stresses he is taking nothing for granted as his side chases the two points that would guarantee them a home semi-final on May 20.
Erasmus has rested six players under the workload management programme but has included Simon Zebo, Jaco Taute, Tyler Bleyendaal, Duncan Williams and Billy Holland from the start and named CJ Stander and Donnacha Ryan among the replacements.
Taute and Francis Saili start a game for the first time as centre partners while Darren Sweetnam and Ronan O’Mahony are familiar figures on the wing with the seemingly tireless Duncan Williams again partnering Bleyendaal at half-back.
There are starting places for Darren O’Shea and Conor Oliver, keymen in last week’s B & I Cup final triumph, while match winner Alex Wootton, Rory Burke, Brian Scott, and Kevin O’Byrne are among the replacements.
Just about every Munster supporter believes clinching a home semi-final in the remaining two games against Treviso and Connacht is a foregone conclusion but Erasmus sees things different.
“It would be nice if we can make the Aviva again for the PRO12 final but we have played Treviso and Connacht before, we know what Connacht have done to us while Treviso have been overturning teams like Ospreys and Edinburgh,” he pointed out.
“They have a lot of players in the Italian team that beat the Springboks last November. Their director of rugby is Kieran Crowley who has played 19 times for New Zealand and coached Canada and I also know their defence coach Marius Goosen.
“They are sharp guys and you can see it in their play. We have lost there a few times and this will be a grind for us.”
Second-row Billy Holland has resumed the captaincy and while admitting morale took a bit of a hammering because of the decisive nature of the loss to Saracens, insists they will move on from the defeat.
“You can’t wallow in your own self-pity for too long,” he warned.
“You wake up Sunday morning and it is a horrible place to be. But you come back and realise what we have left to play for this season and what we can still achieve. If we want to achieve that, we need to get a win this weekend against a team chasing European qualification.
“If you think back to 12 months ago, and how desperate we were to beat the two teams we had to beat to get into Europe — Treviso are in that same position with a huge amount to play for. It pretty quickly puts it into perspective for us what we need to do. I have been to Italy many times and I have never once had an easy weekend over there.”
Treviso have made two changes from the team that defeated Edinburgh in their most recent outing. They were caused by injuries to Luke McLean and Tommaso Iannone and also report the enforced absence of several other familiar names.
However, the matchday 23 contains a whole host of internationals desperate to build on their recent wins over the Dragons and Edinburgh which left them on 19 points, one ahead of Zebre going into the 21st and penultimate round of matches.
The better placed of the two will qualify for next year’s European Cup so the incentive for Treviso could hardly be greater.
D Odiete; A Esposito, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L Sperandio; I McKinley, E Gori; F Zani, L Bigi, S Ferrari, M Fuser, M Budd capt, F Minto, A Steyn, R Barbieri.
D Giazzon, A Porolli, T Pasquali, J F Montaurio, M Lazzaroni, G Bronzini, T Tebaldi, A Pratichetti.
S Zebo; D Sweetnam, F Saili, J Taute, R O’Mahony; T Bleyendaal, D Williams, J Cronin, R Marshall, S Archer, D O’Shea, B Holland capt, D O’Callaghan, C Oliver, J O’Donoghue.
K O’Byrne, B Scott, R Burke, D Ryan, CJ Stander, A Lloyd, I Keatley, A Wootton.
Ian Davies (Wales).