Rob Penney has been able to name Ireland internationals Donncha O’Callaghan and Mike Sherry in his first competitive squad for Munster’s RaboDirect Pro12 opener at Edinburgh tomorrow night.
Second row O’Callaghan will start the first game of the season while hooker Sherry is named on the bench, despite a summer spent on tour with Ireland in New Zealand. Sherry saw no game time over the three Tests, however, while O’Callaghan saw just 64 minutes of action and both forwards were cleared by the IRFU to represent their province this weekend.
Penney will hand Munster debuts to summer signings Casey Laulala and James Downey in the centres as well as openside flanker Sean Dougall, while the other uncapped player in the squad, back row Barry O’Mahony, is on the bench.
Doug Howlett leads the side into the new season having been handed the captaincy by Paul O’Connell, while Penney has a strong pack for the Murrayfield encounter with hooker Damien Varley joining South African props Wian du Preez and BJ Botha in a front row that dominated London Irish in the scrum in an otherwise disappointing home defeat to round off the pre-season schedule last Friday in Cork.
O’Callaghan, who partners Billy Holland at lock, believes the teething problems shown during pre-season in trying to implement Penney’s more instinctive, ball-in-hand game plan are inevitable, allied to a big turnover in playing personnel with the likes of
Denis Leamy, Jerry Flannery, Mick O’Driscoll, David Wallace and John Hayes retiring last season and Tomás O’Leary, Lifeimi Mafi and Denis Fogarty moving on.
“We’ve been prepared well. There’s no excuses on that score. But there’s been a big clear out too,” O’Callaghan said.
“I’ve been sharing a dressing room with Hayes, Fla, Leamy, Quinny, Wally, Micko all my career, since U21, then there was Tomás and Fogs and Mafs there too. When you think about it, that’s some talent. How many caps did they have between them?
“So it’s going to be odd to be there without them. You’re almost looking at the door, expecting them to come in. So, yes, there have been huge changes and I hope people realise that. When I came into the side we were evolving and there were days like we had against Ospreys. And we learnt and we came good.
“No reason why we can’t do it again. We have the young lads coming through. It won’t happen overnight. But I’ve no doubt it will happen.”
With Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley able to name a number of Scottish internationals who toured Australia and the Pacific Islands so successfully during the summer, Munster will not be afforded a gentle introduction on a Murrayfield ground that saw them defeated 29-14 last September.
Newly-qualified Scot and top tryscorer Tim Visser, fly-half and captain Greig Laidlaw, Nick De Luca, Ross Ford and Ross Rennie were all named in an extended squad, as was back row David Denton, who missed the summer tour due to an ankle injury.
“They are a tough outfit, especially over there,” Munster full-back Denis Hurley said. “They gave us a nice hiding there last year so definitely this weekend, we’ll have our homework done going into the game.
“Opening fixture of the season, it is a really tough place to go.
“I think the lads are looking forward to getting over there and getting the first game under the belt and getting the season off to a good start.”
Hurley is eager to make amends for the team’s poor showing against London Irish when Munster, for a third pre-season game in succession, racked up 20-plus unforced errors.
“It is that kind of game plan that needs to have a little bit of patience. I think guys are probably over-running things, and it is just the timing of everything.
“Even looking at a replay of the games, it is quite clear that there is a lot of space out there but we are not taking better options that are available to us at times.
“I think once we do get into our flow there should be that little bit more space for wider players especially.”
EDINBURGH squad: Backs: G Tonks, T Brown, M Penn, L Jones, N De Luca, B Atiga, J Houston, T Visser, G Hunter, H Leonard, G Laidlaw, C Leck, R Rees.
Forwards: A Jacobsen, J Yapp, R Ford, A Titterrell, G Cross, W Nel, G Gilchrist, R McAlpine, P Parker, S Cox, D Denton, R Rennie, R Grant, S McInally, D Basilaia.
MUNSTER: D Hurley; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, J Downey, L O’Dea; I Keatley, D Williams; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, B Holland; P Butler, S Dougall, J Coughlan.
Replacements: M Sherry, M Horan, S Archer, D Foley, B O’Mahony, P Stringer, S Deasy, I Dineen.
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