Tommy O’Donnell came through his 20-minute stint against Leinster at Thomond Park on Sunday without any adverse affect to the hip injury which ruled him out of the World Cup and will start for Munster in tomorrow’s Guinness Pro12 clash with Ulster at Kingspan Park, Belfast.
It is hoped the 28-year-old Cahir native can add badly-needed strength to the Munster pack, especially in the ball-carrying area, where he has been particularly adept throughout his career.
It will be O’Donnell’s 103rd competitive appearance for the province and an impressive display will almost certainly see him included in the as yet announced extended Irish squad for a two-day camp at Carton House.
Unfortunately, injury continues to impact on the options available to coach Anthony Foley. Scrum-half Conor Murray is still ruled out with a bruised hip pointer and second-row Donnacha Ryan and in-form loose head prop James Cronin are sidelined by knee and ankle knocks respectively picked up in the game against Leinster last week.
Even though Keith Earls has received the all clear having been stretchered off during that Thomond Park defeat with what appeared to be a serious neck injury, coach Foley deemed it prudent to rest him with a run of European Cup games looming in each of the following three weeks against Stade Francais (twice) and Treviso.
Foley continues to rotate his squad and has made seven changes from the side which started against Leinster. O’Donnell takes over at number 7 from Jack O’Donoghue who moves to the blind side instead of Robin Copeland. Mark Chisholm takes over from Donnacha Ryan in the second-row and fit again Dave Kilcoyne and BJ Botha replace Cronin and John Ryan in the prop positions.
Perhaps the most interesting selection is that of Ian Keatley in the problem out-half berth. Having endured a couple of luckless outings, most notably off the kicking tee, in early December, he was rested for the clash with Leinster.
However, Munster still struggled when it came to accepting gilt-edged penalty opportunities in that game, with Rory Scannell missing a virtual sitter and Keatley’s out-half replacement Tyler Bleyendaal unable to kick at all because of a leg injury.
So Keatley returns to the starting line-up with Bleyendaal on the bench. The other changes in the back division see Ronan O’Mahony and Argentine Lucas Gonzelez Amorosino come in on the wing positions for Earls and Simon Zebo. Replacement scrum-half Duncan Williams will become the ninth player in the current squad to reach the milestone of 100 appearance for the province.
A Conway; R O’Mahony, F Saili, R Scannell, LG Amorosino; I Keatley, T O’Leary; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha, D Foley, M Chisholm J O’Donoghue, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander capt.
N Scannell, J Ryan, M Sagario, B Holland, R Copeland, D Williams, T Bleyendaal, D Hurley.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved