Rival coaches Johann van Graan and Richard Cockerill have adopted contrasting strategies in choosing their teams for tonight’s (7.35pm) Guinness PRO14 encounter at Musgrave Park.
Whereas van Graan has included a considerable number of the players sure to start in the European Cup meeting with Castres next weekend, Cockerill has opted to rest the majority of his international contingent after the November series with the back-to-back Champions Cup games against Newcastle in mind.
Munster supporters will be a little surprised that Peter O’Mahony, who has come through a very demanding November in the Irish jersey and with so many big games looming, is being asked to lead the side. But it is an indication of how much importance is being placed in the encounter by van Graan, who this week insisted that he would treat the Scots with every respect even though they lost last week to the struggling Dragons.
“I won’t read too much into that defeat,” he said. “They could have won it in the last few minutes. Richard Cockerill is a quality coach and you know they play a pretty pressurised style of footy. To put it into perspective, nobody just beats Toulon and they should possibly have beaten Montpellier as well. So, yes, we have a lot of respect for Edinburgh. If you look at the run they had in the PRO14 last year, they did really well and got into the play-offs. We beat them in the quarter-finals but they have grown as a team and have a lot of belief.”
In addition to O’Mahony, van Graan has also called up six other players who were involved with Ireland in Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Tadhg Beirne and the entire front-row of Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan, while Conor Murray and Chris Farrell will make their first starts of the season. And an indication of the talent available in midfield is that new international Sam Arnold has to be satisfied with a place on the bench.
Cockerill said earlier this week that, with the double-header against Newcastle Falcons coming up, he had to make the Champions Cup the priority. He believes the loss to Dragons, along with the requirements of the Scottish national side creates a huge challenge in terms of getting fresh bodies on the park tonight.
“I am not going to pick ten international players so there are ten missing for a start,” said the former Leicester front-row forward. “The reality is that you could take your best team to Munster and not win. The reality is that the team we take to Munster shouldn’t win but we will prepare as well as we can and go with a mindset to win.”
Cockerill, of course, is vastly experienced and a wily old fox and Munster won’t be taken in by what he has to say, all the more so because so many of tonight’s side have so much to prove to van Graan with massive games just around the corner. That being so, it looks as if another five-pointer should be well within the team’s scope.
M Hailey; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan, T Beirne, B Holland, P O’Mahony capt, C Cloete, A Botha.
K O’Byrne, J Loughman, C Parker, F Wycherley, G Coombes, D Williams, T Bleyendaal, S Arnold.
D Fife; T Brown, G Taylor, JP Socino, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Fowles; R Sutherland, D Cherry, M McCallum, J Hodgson, C Hunter-Hill, A Miller, L Wynne, L Hamilton capt.
R Ford, D Marfo, P Ceccarelli, C Atkinson, S Navalo, S Kenny, J Baggott, C Dean.
Nigel Owens (Wales)