The absence of Conor Murray from tonight’s Munster squad for the must-win RaboDirect Pro12 game with Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun has set the tongues wagging — is he out of favour, injured, or what?
According to sources within the province there is nothing sinister — Murray is simply being rested with Duncan Williams given another start at No 9 and Cathal Sheridan, who was so impressive in Munster’s facile win over Connacht, afforded another opportunity to play off the bench.
Murray will still be in pole position come selection for the team to play Harlequins at the Stoop in Sunday week’s Heineken Cup quarter-final, a game of huge importance to Munster as they run out of options to chase silverware this season. But Williams could well be facing a severe challenge to keep a place in the reserves if Sheridan can replicate the form he showed for so long during Munster’s victory over Connacht.
However, it has led some Munster fans to question why Peter Stringer wasn’t being brought home to conclude his contract as counterparts in Bath look forward to the veteran helping them advance in the Amlin Cup next weekend.
Rob Penney’s weekend selection for Scotland has been pretty straight-forward apart from his decision to give Murray a little more time to recover from his Six Nations campaign with Ireland.
In the back line, Johne Murphy comes onto the wing in place of the injured Denis Hurley, while Williams starts for Sheridan.
In the pack, changes from the last day see Mike Sherry and BJ Botha ahead of Damien Varley and Stephen Archer respectively, with Paddy Butler coming into the back row for the injured Sean Dougall (knee).
It wasn’t a good start for Munster on their journey to Scotland, with their flight from Shannon delayed by several hours due to a technical fault with their aircraft. However, they were in positive mood as outlined by centre James Downey, who is looking forward to a solid performance and a strong outcome as his side desperately bid to keep their Rabo hopes alive.
“We have to win,” said Downey, “but I believe it’s possible. I think we can go on and win our remaining matches, although we do know that things might be out of our control. We have to control what we can control.”
Former Scottish playmaker Gregor Townsend, now the highly acclaimed coach of Glasgow, has Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Ryan Grant all back in action following their international exploits of recent weeks.
Tim Swinson is also recalled, while another host of Scotland players come back into the starting line-up from the bench as Ruaridh Jackson, Sean Lamont, Ryan Wilson, Jon Welsh and Pat MacArthur are introduced.
Townsend said: “It’s nice to be in a position where we have an increasing number of players fighting to get into the starting 15.”
Glasgow stay in second place despite being beaten by Leinster last time out and are going for their sixth consecutive home win.
“We weren’t as accurate as we’d have liked against Leinster and we know we have to improve, especially defensively,” said Townsend.
“Munster are a strong defensive team so we must take any opportunities we get. Despite being sixth in the league, they are only seven points off the top four and they can still qualify for the play-offs.
“That makes them extremely dangerous opponents and we must approach the game in the right manner.”
GLASGOW WARRIORS: S Hogg, S Maitland, S Lamont, P Home, D van der Merwe, R Jackson, N Matawalu, R Grant, P McArthur, J Welsh, T Swinson, A Kellock (capt), J Strauss, R Wilson, J Barclay.
Replacements: D Hall, O Fainga’anuku, M Low, T Ryder, R Harley, H Pyrgos, D Weir, M Bennett.
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett (capt); C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; R O’Gara, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; P Butler, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
Replacements: D Varley, W du Preez, S Archer, B Holland, N Ronan, C Sheridan, I Keatley, I Dineen.
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