Munster hopefuls will take centre stage against Zebre

Former Leinster centre Collie O’Shea will partner Cian Bohane in Munster’s midfield tomorrow night as Rassie Erasmus begins his search for willing alternatives to the injured Francis Saili.

Erasmus yesterday unveiled his first selection as the province’s new director of rugby, naming a 29-player matchday squad as his three-year reign begins with a pre-season warm-up against Guinness Pro12 rivals Zebre at Waterford RSC.

Having thrown down the gauntlet to the centres within his existing squad to fill the breach in the wake of Saili’s second shoulder surgery of the summer last Monday, ruling out the New Zealander for up to four months, Erasmus will first run the rule over Bohane at outside centre, almost two years to the day since he ruptured his knee on the same ground.

That cost the Corkman the whole of the 2014-15 season and restricted him to just two appearances last term.

Now he gets a chance to shine and will partner fellow 25-year-old O’Shea, the Clontarf clubman who starts at inside-centre having trained with Munster in pre-season following his departure from Leinster last May.

The game will be Munster’s first in Waterford since Bohane’s injury during a friendly win over London Irish and will feature homegrown No.8 Jack O’Donoghue with academy wing Steven McMahon from Dungarvan named on a 14-man bench.

With Erasmus denied the services of internationals Conor Murray, Keith Earls, CJ Stander, Donnacha Ryan, and Dave Kilcoyne under IRFU player management rules and rehabbing players including new centre signing from Ulster Sam Arnold, locks Mark Chisholm and Sean McCarthy, club captain and flanker Peter O’Mahony, and fly-halves Johnny Holland, Bill Johnston,and Tyler Bleyendaal, the South African has still managed to field a squad blended with plenty of experience amongst the younger guns.

There is an all-senior front five featuring captain Billy Holland at lock alongside John Madigan behind props John Ryan at loosehead and Stephen Archer either side of Niall Scannell.

O’Donoghue is joined in the back row by blindside flanker Dave O’Callaghan with academy openside Conor Oliver.

Duncan Williams and Ian Keatley form an experienced half-back unit although the injury crisis at fly-half hands an opportunity off the bench to sub-academy and Ireland Under-19 number 10 Conor Fitzgerald, whose elder brother Stephen Fitzgerald starts at full-back in a back three with Ronan O’Mahony and Darren Sweetnam on the wings.

Also looking to feature off the bench are new signings John Andress, the experienced Ulster-born tighthead and lock Darren O’Shea, re-hired from Worcester Warriors after two seasons in England.

Further senior debuts could come for Cork Con and Ireland U20 scrum-half John Poland and academy men Brian Scott at prop, Gavin Coombes and Ollie Lyons in the back row, and centres Calvin Nash and Dan Goggin, both of whom have a chance to stake a claim in the Erasmus midfield auditions.

Captain Billy Holland is as excited as the newcomers to get some game time after a long summer’s hard work under the new management team.

“There has been a lot of energy and positivity brought to the pre-season so far,” Holland said.

“We are nine weeks into pre-season and we are kind of sick of lifting weights and running into each other. You are always mad to get back on the pitch, doing what you are paid to do. It is exciting really. There are going to be a lot of young fellas getting to wear the jersey for the first time this weekend, plus the game is in Waterford, somewhere different.

“It is all well and good we asking people to come from Waterford to support us (in Cork or Limerick), you have to get out there and play around the province too.”

Munster:

S Fitzgerald; D Sweetnam, C Bohane, C O’Shea, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; J Ryan, N Scannell, S Archer; J Madigan, B Holland – captain; D O’Callaghan, C Oliver, J O’Donoghue.

Replacements:

K O’Byrne, P McCabe, J Andress, B Scott, D O’Shea, D Foley, O Lyons, G Coombes, J Poland, C Fitzgerald, D Goggin, D Johnston, C Nash, S McMahon.



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