Tommy O’Donnell, Donnacha Ryan and James Cronin return to action for Munster in tonight’s Guinness Pro12 clash with Glasgow Warriors on the 4G pitch at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock.
The release of the trio by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has come as a massive boost for a side that has lost each of its last three home games in the tournament and finds itself in danger of missing out on the knock-out stages and failing to qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup.
Having captured the trophy last year, hammering Munster 31-13 in the process in the Belfast final, Glasgow saw a large contingent of their leading players called up by Scotland in the World Cup and Six Nations. As a result, they have been a pale shadow of the squad that brushed all opposition aside in last season’s competition. They currently languish in eighth place with 30 points (12 games played), seven behind Munster in 6th (13 played).
Significantly, though, Glasgow’s only win in their last seven outings in all competitions came in January at the expense of mighty Racing 92 at tonight’s venue. That result indicates they are comfortable on the 4G surface. They have also won their last nine home games against Irish opposition since Munster beat them at Scotstoun in October 2013.
“Tommy, Donnacha and James have added huge energy to the group,” said Munster assistant coach Ian Costello after this week’s only full pitch session. “They are key drivers. Tommy, defensively he is so destructive, he gets off the line, Donnacha is the same, huge energy and also Jamesie, they will add a huge amount to us and I think that will be that little injection we need around the five-day turnaround. Guys can get fatigued physically and mentally and lot of the changes would have been pre-planned.”
Head coach Anthony Foley has made six alterations, one positional, from the side that disappointed against Ospreys. Ryan and Billy Holland form a new second-row partnership with O’Donnell coming into the back-row, Niall Scannell returning at hooker and Cronin on the bench. Tomas O’Leary returns at scrum-half while David Johnston joins Rory Scannell in an all-academy centre partnership.
Scottish coach Vern Cotter has released five of his national squad to Warriors: Sean Lamont, Gordon Reid, Tim Swinson, Duncan Weir and Zander Fagerson. No more than Foley, his Glasgow counterpart Gregor Townsend is under pressure and commented: “It’s our first home game for a few weeks against one of our contenders for a play-off spot so it’s all-important for us. Munster are one of the top teams in the league so we’re well aware of the challenge we face at Rugby Park.”
Costello also fully appreciates the public’s nervousness about Munster’s precarious position.
“I am sure there is plenty of outside speculation.
“We know we have to secure a European spot, we know we have to keep in the playoff hunt. With the 4G, you are talking about the pace of the game. They are notoriously fast with the ball in play longer.
“Glasgow are a huge off-loading side, they play with a lot of continuity and a huge tempo, so from our points of view it is going to be about controlling the pace, controlling the off-loads, making sure we are dictating how the game is played and where it is played.”
Plans for tonight’s game were altered late on, Munster are travelling out to Glasgow Prestwick and back today.
P Murchie; T. Naiyaravoro, G Bryce, P Horne, S Lamont; D Weir, A Price; G Reid, J Malcolm, S Puafisi, T Swinson, L Nakarawa, R Harley, C Fusaro, J Strauss capt.
C Fenton, J Yamuyanutawa, Z Fagerson, G Peterson, S Favaro, G Hart, F Lyle, R Hughes.
A Conway; D Sweetnam, D Johnston, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, T O’ Leary; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan, D Ryan, B Holland capt, J O’Donoghue, T O’Donnell, R Copeland.
M Sherry, J Cronin, M Saggario, D Foley, C Oliver, D Williams, J Holland, C Bohane.
B Whitehouse (Wales).
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