A new back row, a substitute referee and a familiar rallying cry for Munster ahead of tomorrow’s must-win clash with Saracens as Conor Murray called on the new generation to dish out a Heineken Cup hammering of their own at Thomond Park.
As kids, Murray and his peers were reared on Munster’s classic European encounters with English sides, not least the last-gasp 31-30 pool victory over tomorrow’s visitors back in January 2000. Now it is the turn of the next generation, says Murray as Munster head coach Rob Penney prepares to name a side today featuring a first Heineken Cup start for Dave O’Callaghan in a re-jigged back row to face the English Premiership high-fliers.
O’Callaghan, 22, made his Heineken Cup debut off the bench away to Northampton last January en route to being voted Academy player of the year and came on in Paris against Racing Metro in this season’s opening pool game.
The Corkman looks set to start at blindside in place of new arrival CJ Stander, whose two-try first start for Munster last Saturday was marred by a broken bone in his hand that will keep the South African out for the rest of the pool stage.
With Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall and Niall Ronan also out injured, Peter O’Mahony switches to openside while James Coughlan returns at number eight having come through his comeback game last weekend against Glasgow following a torn groin.
With Dave Kilcoyne set to continue as starting loosehead prop and fellow 23-year-old Mike Sherry alongside him at hooker, there is a youthful look to the pack and Murray is urging his age group to seize their opportunity, rekindle childhood memories and claim a notable scalp of their own against formidable English opposition.
“We grew up watching it, I suppose the older players in the squad have experience playing against these English teams, almost hammering these teams and making them want to run out the gate in the first-half and completely scare them with the crowd,” Murray said. “It is kind of our turn now to do that, a lot of the younger players haven’t experienced that before and we need to do that for ourselves this time.
“Hopefully, including myself, we [younger guys] now have a lot of experience under our belts and we have played in a lot of big games against bigger teams, we’ve played against international teams and a lot of international players, so I don’t think we are intimidated by it in any way.
“We are excited about making our own bit of history and making our own team come to the fore and making a name for ourselves in a Munster jersey which we have yet to do, I think.”
Munster’s progression under Penney has not been without its frustrations as the squad he inherited from Tony McGahan this summer adjusts to the New Zealander’s more expansive new gameplan. But there were signs during the RaboDirect Pro 12 victory over Glasgow last week that pieces of the jigsaw were beginning to fall into place and Murray, fresh off his best performance in an Ireland shirt against Argentina and over the knee injury that resurfaced in its wake, believes there is a more consistent performance to come this weekend.
“I think with the way we are playing errors can happen in the wide channels as we are trying to play with a lot of pace,” the scrum-half said.
“Maybe our heads came off a bit in the last game [against Glasgow]. We got an early lead and we had three tries before half time, maybe we started to get a bit loose, but I don’t think that will happen this week, we’ll be much more clued in, the heads will be a little bit more screwed on knowing what’s at stake,” he said.
There has been one last-minute change regarding tomorrow’s fixture. French referee Romain Poite, so often in the past a thorn in Munster’s side, has been replaced by compatriotPascal Gauzère.
Munster (probable): F Jones; D Howlett, K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan; Dave O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan.
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