Munster taking no chances against weakened Zebre

Michael Bradley, the former Ireland scrum-half and now head coach of Italian side Zebre, was last night casting an envious eye at the strength of the squad announced by his Munster counterpart Johann van Graan ahead of tonight’s Guinness PRO14 tie at Thomond Park.

Munster taking no chances against weakened Zebre

Whereas Bradley is without eight first choice Italians who are on duty at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon, van Graan has announced as many as 12 changes from the side that ran up 48 points against Castres in the Champions Cup and is still putting out a formidable-looking outfit.

Billy Holland resumes the captaincy in a pack that sees James Cronin returning from Ireland camp to start at number one while John Ryan, who featured in the dramatic victory last week over France, is on the bench with Brian Scott at tighthead prop.

The depth of talent available in the back-row is demonstrated by the selection of Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Oliver and Robin Copeland even though others are either on international duty or rested entirely.

Duncan Williams makes his 150th appearance as half-back partner to JJ Hanrahan with Dan Goggin, out of action all year because of a knee injury, and Sammy Arnold, having his first outing since being red carded against Ulster on New Year’s Day, teaming up in midfield.

Privately, van Graan would be very disappointed with anything other than a five-point bonus win for his side but he was non-committal when asked for his expectations earlier in the week.

“I don’t expect anything,” he declared. “You start at zero, you respect each team. Rugby is a very funny game. You should focus on yourself so we prepare the same for Zebre as we do for any team.

"It is a game for 80 minutes, a different ball, a different referee — we want to make some improvements in our game. We can only control the things we can. Hopefully, we will get the win first. If there is a bonus point up for grabs, we will take that any day of the week.”

Zebre may be propping up Conference A table but they have certainly displayed a degree of potential under Bradley and include wins over Connacht, Ulster and Southern Kings this season.

Van Graan first saw Munster in action in the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchini last November when they won comfortably enough by 36-19 but just as is the case this evening, the Italians were short their leading players who were on duty with Italy.

Conor O’Shea has included eight Zebre players in today’s 23 at the Aviva and unlike Munster, they simply don’t have the reserve material to compensate.

On the plus side, centre Giulio Bisegni, second-row and captain George Biagi and flanker Renato Giammarioli have been released and are included in the starting line-up.

The game, of course, is a particularly significant one in the Zebre career of Bradley as he returns to a venue that he graced with a series of magnificent performances back in the 1980s and 90s with PBC, Cork Constitution and Munster.

During a period when the province played roughly four or five games a season, he represented Munster on 40 occasions, by coincidence the number of times he also played for Ireland.

MUNSTER:

S Zebo; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, D Goggin, A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams; J Cronin, N Scannell, B Scott, J Kleyn, B Holland capt, J O’Donoghue, C Oliver, R Copeland.

Replacements:

K O’Byrne, J Loughman, J Ryan, G Grobler, D O’Callaghan, J Poland, I Keatley, R Scannell.

ZEBRE:

C Gaffney; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, G Afamasaga, G Venditti; S Bordoli, G Palazzani; C Ah-Nau, G D’Apice, E Gello, G Biagi capt, D Sisi, G Giammarioli, J Meyer, J Tuivati.

Replacements:

L Luus, A De Marchi, R Tenga, L Krumow, D Minnie, R Raffaele, M Azzolini, R Parata.

Referee:

Ben Whitehouse (Wales).

More in this section

CourtsRugbyGuiness Pro14MunsterPlace: Thomond ParkPlace: Aviva StadiumPlace: IrelandPlace: Stadio Sergio LanfranchiniPlace: AvivaPlace: WalesPerson: Michael BradleyPerson: Johann van GraanPerson: BradleyPerson: van GraanPerson: Billy HollandPerson: James CroninPerson: John RyanPerson: Brian ScottPerson: Jack O’DonoghuePerson: Conor OliverPerson: Robin CopelandPerson: Duncan WilliamsPerson: JJ HanrahanPerson: Dan GogginPerson: Sammy ArnoldPerson: ZebrePerson: ItaliansPerson: Conor O’SheaPerson: Giulio BisegniPerson: George BiagiPerson: Renato GiammarioliPerson: S ZeboPerson: D SweetnamPerson: S ArnoldPerson: D GogginPerson: A WoottonPerson: D WilliamsPerson: J CroninPerson: N ScannellPerson: B ScottPerson: J KleynPerson: B HollandPerson: J O’DonoghuePerson: C OliverPerson: R CopelandPerson: K O’ByrnePerson: J LoughmanPerson: J RyanPerson: G GroblerPerson: D O’CallaghanPerson: J PolandPerson: I KeatleyPerson: R ScannellPerson: C GaffneyPerson: G Di GiulioPerson: G BisegniPerson: G AfamasagaPerson: G VendittiPerson: S BordoliPerson: G PalazzaniPerson: C Ah-NauPerson: GPerson: E GelloPerson: G Biagi captPerson: D SisiPerson: G GiammarioliPerson: J MeyerPerson: J TuivatiPerson: L LuusPerson: A De MarchiPerson: R TengaPerson: L KrumowPerson: D MinniePerson: R RaffaelePerson: M AzzoliniPerson: R ParataPerson: Ben WhitehouseEvent: New Year’s DayOrganisation: MunsterOrganisation: ZebreOrganisation: CastresOrganisation: FranceOrganisation: UlsterOrganisation: ConnachtOrganisation: Southern KingsOrganisation: ItalyOrganisation: PBCOrganisation: Cork Constitution
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