After signing a new two-year deal with the province, Billy Holland will lead Munster into Pro12 battle against Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi stadium in Parma this afternoon with the aim of helping his side strengthen their bid for a top-four spot.
Inevitably, with Ireland’s call taking precedence there are some familiar faces missing but Munster will be glad of the release from national camp of James Cronin, even if the player will be personally disappointed.
Head coach Anthony Foley has made eight changes from the side that started against Treviso in the European Cup last weekend. Darren Sweetnam is upgraded from the A team, Tomás O’Leary starts at scrum-half and Andrew Conway returns after injury to play 15. The other changes are in the pack, with Cronin and Niall Scannell in the front row, Mark Chisholm in the second row and Jack O’Donoghue along with Robin Copeland named behind them.
Dave O’Callaghan makes a return to the match day squad amongst the replacements after successfully rehabbing an abductor injury.
Zebre will be without 12 of 13 players called up to the Italian national camp with out-half Kelly Haimona the exception.
Team manager Andrea De Rossi acknowledged his side could have difficulties: “We face another test of character to deal with Munster who are an experienced team and the runners-up last season; they’re a team that knows how to win games without necessarily dominating possession, they’re a team with great tradition.”
But Munster won’t be fooled by kind words from the opposition, with Zebre now a team with a growing reputation under coach Gianluca Guidi. Assistant coach Ian Costello believes they will pose a much sterner test than the more predictable Treviso did last week.
“They play a general broken type game, there’s always a lot of movement, a lot of energy and a lot of intent,” said Costello. “You see they can cover the pitch, they are quite ambitious and in my opinion they are far better organised collectively than Treviso. They don’t concede easy scores, they work hard for their scores and they don’t play a lot of rugby in their own half.
“These days they’re the most impressive I’ve seen them of late. The way we work is we watch the previous five or six games and it stands out how consistent they are. In the past they might have pulled a victory out of the bag but now they are playing at a much more consistent level.”
So last week’s performance won’t be good enough?
“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. We gave Treviso 22 line-outs for example. Twelve of them were within 40 metres of our own line and we’ve identified that as a threat. If you multiply that with Zebre and we give them that much access to the ball in that part of the field we’ll be under pressure consistently for the game. So we’ve got to manage territory better, we’ve got to manage and control the ball better.
“Sometimes you’ve got to look at defence but the easiest way to defend is to manage where you play the game and manage how you control the ball. That will be a big focus against Zebre.
Zebre: K Van Zyl; D Berrman, T Boni, M Pratichetti, M Visentin; K Haimona, L Burgess; A De Marchi, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; G Koegelenberg, M Bortolami (captain); E Caffini, J Meyer, J Cook, Replacements: E Coria, B Postiglioni, G Roan, F Ruzza, F Cristiano, G Toniolatti, M Muliaina, U Beyers.
Munster: A Conway; D Sweetnam, F Saili, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, T O’Leary; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Foley, M Chisholm; B Holland (captain), Jack O’Donoghue, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: M Sherry, D Kilcoyne, M Sagario, D O’Callaghan, S Buckley, D Williams, C Bohane, G van den Heever.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved