MUNSTER’S pride of Lions and other elite players have been warned not to expect to walk back into the side for the eagerly-awaited Magners League clash against Leinster at the RDS on October 3, followed in successive weeks by Heineken Cup matches against Northampton and Treviso.
Coach Tony McGahan and manager Shaun Payne have been impressed with the form of a number of younger players in the pre-season friendlies and Magners League games and insists they will be given every opportunity to retain their placesonce the serious business begins next month.
“You could have 10 or 11 players coming back into the squad shortly, between three Lions and guys fit again after injury”, said Payne last night. “Suddenly there’s a lot of competition for places and so there will be a lot of guys looking for big performances this week. There are going to be a lot of disappointed lads with so many coming back at pretty much the same time. We want the team to play in the Heineken Cup to play as many games as possible together”.
Munster’s next Magners League engagement is against the Llanelli Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday (6.30) and then they meet the improving Dragons at Musgrave Park on Sunday week, September 27, six days before the clash with Leinster. The consensus is that the star names will all be accommodated at the RDS but that isn’t necessarily the case, according to Payne.
“There’s no way people on the non-available list are going to walk into the squad”, he said. “Tony (McGahan) has made that clear. You have to play for your place, you’re just not given it, although there may be some leeway for the Lions. We’re not going to throw 10 guys into the line-up. There may be guys coming off the bench, maybe three or four starters depending on injured players”.
Payne readily acknowledged several squad members had put their hands up over the past few weeks, none more so than Niall Ronan, the openside flanker who was voted man of the match in Friday’s win over Cardiff Blues. Ronan and another former Leinster player, Felix Jones (“his potential appears to be massive,” according to Payne) will strongly contend for places in the bigger games, and that could be bad news for some long-established players.
“There will be a lot of calls for the coaching staff to make”, said Payne, clearly happy he himself won’t be directly involved in that process. “That’s why Tony gets the big bucks”, he quipped.
The manager did stress, though, that “you need to have the correct balance. There are guys who have given brilliant service in the last six or seven years and that’s not going to be discarded. On the other hand, if there are guys playing particularly well, you need to be looking at them. If you just remain loyal to those who have been there in the past, then where’s the incentive for the lads coming through? There’s definitely a balancing act there”.
Munster’s much improved, though far from perfect performance against the Blues, has served as another incentive for the big name players to get back into action as soon as possible. Restrictions imposed by the national management won’t make that possible for another week or two but as Payne pointed out: “There’s only so much pre-season training you can do before you’re just about bursting to go”.
For now, though, Munster will go with an unchanged squad for the trip to Llanelli. This time though, John Hayes (who retired by agreement at half-time last week) will be available for the full 80 minutes, while it remains to be seen if Scarlets player-coach Simon Easterby, the former Ireland flanker, decides to start with Lions out-half Stephen Jones.
Ironically, it was a yellow card handed to Easterby after an altercation with Glasgow’s Alistair Kellock that led to the Scarlets 19-11 defeat at Firhill last week. Their head of rugby, Nigel Davies, was less than pleased with Easterby and commented: “Our discipline is a huge issue again. Simon’s sin-bin was at a key stage of the game and the kick allowed Glasgow to put us out of reach of the bonus point.
“Simon has told me he was yellow-carded for retaliating and you can’t afford to do that. It’s a difficult for him because he is a player and a coach and, as coaches, we’re adamant that our discipline will get better. There’s a responsibility on all the players whether they are young or old. We can’t play without 15 men on the field.”
MUNSTER squad: M. Horan, T. Buckley, J. Brugnaut, J. Hayes, D. Fogarty, D. Varley, M. O’Driscoll, D. Ryan, B. Holland, T. O’Donnell, N. Ronan, D. Leamy, J. Coughlan; P. Stringer, T. Morland, J. Manning, L. Mafi, T. Gleeson, B. Murphy, D. Howlett, D. Hurley, S. Deasy, F. Jones, D. Barnes.
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