Former Munster and Leicester Tigers player Frank Murphy will reach a rare milestone at Thomond Park tonight when he wins his 100th cap for Connacht.
After missing nearly all of last season through injury, the Cork scrum-half has been overtaken as first choice by Kieran Marmion, but he is back in action tonight and plays his fourth game of the season.
Connacht coach Pat Lam observed: “Kieran has had a high workload this season having played in every game and taken part in a two-day national camp earlier this week. However, we’re delighted for Frank to achieve his 100th Connacht cap, especially after such a long road to recovery last season.”
Munster’s Rob Penney continues to push on with his policy of squad rotation and has made another raft of changes from last week — JJ Hanrahan the only survivor from the starting side that snatched an injury-time victory over Scarlets.
Niall Scannell and John Ryan move up to the starting XV, joining James Cronin in the front-row. Donncha O’Callaghan starts next to Dave Foley in the second-row, while Paddy Butler is back from injury, joining Sean Dougall and skipper for the night James Coughlan in the back-row.
Penney has plenty of reasons to be concerned about tonight’s game; not least the growing influence Pat Lam is having on the Connacht operation.
And there is more, says Penney: “They’ve now got a few more Kiwis in there, Craig Clarke (who has been named captain for tonight) and Jake Heenan (although injured), Rodney Ah You and Nathan White; just rolling all those New Zealanders off my tongue, plus they’ve got a couple of other foreigners.”
Penney is well acquainted with some of that group too: “Yeah, Craig Clarke spent a number of years in Canterbury when I was coaching there, I knew him very well before he went back up north to the Chiefs, and Jake Heenan was on my U-20 team we took to South Africa. Rodney was at Canterbury as well for a number of years, we picked him out of school to come into the Academy and he trained with us there. He came to the game quite late but I spent a lot of time with him and it is good he managed to secure another contract up there. ”
The arrival of Clarke especially caught his attention: “Yeah, that was a good signing, Weka (nickname) is a gentleman and a stoic leader who gives it all every time he plays. There was talk when there were a couple of injuries at All Black level that he was close and would have done the jersey justice.
“He is here now and will be bringing that team together. They’ve been really tenacious this year and probably should have picked up some more points. They would love to come to Thomond Park and take our scalp, no doubt about that.”
Having beaten former Heineken Cup champions Toulouse on their home patch, Penney has no doubt Connacht will come to Limerick looking for another big scalp.
“Yes. They’re dangerous, (you have to give them) serious respect, you’ve got to make sure they’re not given an opportunity to get a bit of a sniff because they will be challenging for sure.”
After two tough games and two late wins, Penney would clearly like to see more daylight between the teams long before the finish of tonight’s game, but he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I don’t think the performance against Scarlets last week has any impact on what we will be doing this week. I’m just excited that at some point this team’s going to play some good footy and take the pressure off the hearts of the coaching staff.”
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