Munster coach Johann van Graan has one eye on the European Champions Cup game against Toulon in a fortnight. He is resting several players for tonight’s Guinness PRO14 game against Edinburgh at Murrayfield, kick-off 7.35pm.
The team will again be captained by Billy Holland, in his 150th game for the province, while hooker Mike Sherry makes his first start since April, 2016.
With Chris Cloete out of commission for the remainder of the season, because of a fractured arm, tonight’s game affords Conor Oliver the opportunity to put his hand up for the number 7 jersey against Toulon, while Robin Copeland, who departs for Connacht at the end of the season, has been rewarded for some impressive recent performances with retention at number eight.
Apart from the Irish quartet of Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, and CJ Stander, there is no place in tonight’s 23 for out-halves Ian Keatley and Tyler Bleyendaal, wing Andrew Conway, and tighthead prop John Ryan. Tommy O’Donnell, Cloete’s likely replacement for Toulon, is confined to an appearance off the bench, as he returns from injury.
Munster go into the game comfortably placed for a home tie in the knockout stages from Conference A, 12 points behind leaders, Glasgow, but six ahead of South African side Cheetahs with a game fewer played.
Storm Emma caused the postponement of the scheduled fixture a couple of weeks ago, with Munster head coach Johann van Graan stressing not much has changed in the meantime. “We have two teams, still the same, coming up against each other. Edinburgh have been playing some incredible rugby; they haven’t lost at Murrayfield this year and won five out of the last six. They have been in good form, winning games in the dying moments.”
Van Graan’s opposite number at Edinburgh, Richard Cockerill, will be well-known to Munster followers as a member of the formidable Leicester Tigers front-row that waged many a fierce Heineken Cup battle with Munster. It doesn’t please him that Edinburgh continue to play second fiddle to Glasgow in Scotland, but he hopes a recent run of decent form, which has lifted them to third in Conference B, five points ahead of nearest challengers Ulster, will keep them in the tournament until the closing stages. “We’ve given ourselves the opportunity to be in the playoffs. Whether we’re good enough to stay there, we’ve yet to see.”
Meanwhile, Munster have added three young players to their European Champions Cup squad in time for the quarter-final against Toulon.
Centre Dan Goggin has been a regular member of the squad for the past few years, but his career has been badly disrupted by injury. With Chris Farrell out of the reckoning, he could well come into contention. Jeremy Loughman, a powerfully built, 6 ft 1 inch, 19-stone prop, played his early rugby with Athy, before winning two Leinster Schools Senior Cup medals with Blackrock. He joined Munster on a three-month development contract in January, coming on as a substitute against Ulster on New Year’s Eve.
Jack Stafford is a former Glenstal Abbey student. The scrum-half represented the Ireland under-20s, before joining the Munster academy.
D Fife; J Harries, M Bennett, C Dean, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, S Hidalgo Clyne; J Laye, N Cochrane, M McCallum, F McKenzie capt, B Tooles, M Bradbury, J Hardie, B Mata. Replacements – C Fenton, R Sutherland, S Berghan, L Carmichael, C du Preez, N Fowles, D Weir, J Rasolea.
S Zebo; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, J Hart; J Cronin, M Sherry, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland capt, J O’Donoghue, C Oliver, R Copeland. Replacements – K O’Byrne, D Kilcoyne, B Scott, D O’Shea, T O’Donnell, J Stafford, B Johnston, D Goggin.
Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
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