Stringer and O’Gara reunited

Munster will reunite Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara at half-back for the first time in 19 months as head coach Rob Penney shuffles his deck for tomorrow night’s RaboDirect Pro12 clash with Newport Gwent Dragons at Thomond Park (8pm).

The game will also see Ireland backs Simon Zebo and Keith Earls make their first starts of the season and openside flanker Niall Ronan return to the senior side for the first time since a serious knee injury sidelined him last January.

Scrum-half Stringer, who signed a one-year contract extension for 2012-13 having spent six months on loan at Saracens and Newcastle Falcons, will start his first game for the province since Munster’s trip to Edinburgh last season on September 30, 2011. You have to go back a further seven months to February 19, 2011 for the last time the 98-capped Ireland number nine last partnered fly-half O’Gara in a starting line-up, Edinburgh also providing the opposition that day at Thomond Park.

Stringer replaces Duncan Williams, the starting nine for the first three games of the league season, with Conor Murray keeping his place on the bench while O’Gara comes in at 10 having made his seasonal debut off the bench in last weekend’s 20-19 loss at Ulster. Ian Keatley started that game but switches to full-back after Denis Hurley went down with an illness affecting his throat, while Zebo comes in as a direct replacement on the wing for Luke O’Dea, who injured his ankle at Ravenhill.

Number eight James Coughlan also limped out in Belfast and is replaced by Paddy Butler while outside centre Casey Laulala and openside Sean Dougall are rested for the first time this season with Earls, a try scorer off the bench last week, in at 13 and Ronan replacing Dougall.

Having featured alongside Ronan in Munster A’s win over Ulster Ravens last Friday, Danny Barnes and JJ Hanrahan are named on the bench here.

Billy Holland will make his fourth start of the season in the second row and has spoken of the shock Nevin Spence’s death has had on the whole of Irish rugby while stressing the need for Munster to refocus on beating the Dragons once the players have paid their respects.

Ulster and Ireland A centre Spence, 23, lost his life last Saturday along with his father and brother in a tragic accident on their family farm in Co. Down. A minute’s silence at all RaboDirect Pro12 games this weekend will be held as a mark of respect to the Spence family and Holland said the sad news had reverberated through the Munster squad. “A lot of the lads played with him through under-age and with Ireland last summer and it’s a shocking tragedy,” Holland said. “By all accounts he was an extremely nice fella and his ability on the rugby pitch was unquestionable but that doesn’t really matter. Everyone says he was a great fella no matter who you are in the rugby community, it’s a shocking thing to happen for his family.”

As for how Munster would have to get their minds back on the rugby, the second row said: “Minute’s silences can be tough. I didn’t know Nevin but we see ourselves as a big community, rugby, and there’s only a handful of professional players in Ireland. We’d have played against him plenty of times and for something like that to happen to someone in a similar situation as us is shocking.

“But, you know, life has to go on and we’ll get focused and we’ll move on from then.”

Holland, 27, is expecting another physical encounter hot on the heels of an intense 20-19 defeat to Ulster at Ravenhill last Friday.

“The Dragons are a very physical outfit, whether it’s home or away and they always front up in the pack. We had a physical game Friday night, no doubt about that, but we’ve got to dust ourselves down and bring another level of intensity and physicality.

“They score tries from anywhere and always have a few strange things up their sleeves which are hard to defend and they’re a very tough team.”

MUNSTER: I Keatley; D Howlett (capt), K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O’Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, M Sherry, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, N Ronan, P Butler.

Replacements: D Varley, W du Preez, S Archer, D Foley, T O’Donnell, C Murray, D Barnes, JJ Hanrahan.

DRAGONS (squad) Backs: D Evans, T Prydie, P Leach, W Harries, A Smith, A Hughes, A Tuilagi, L Robling, S Jones, J Evans, L Davies; Forwards: J Groves, D Lydiate, T Brown, T Faletau, L Evans, H Stoddart, N Cudd, I Nimmo, A Jones, D Way, T Ryan, A Coundley, P Price, S Jones, S Parry.

More in this section

CourtsRugbyPlace: Thomond ParkPlace: EdinburghPlace: RavenhillPlace: BelfastPlace: Co. DownPlace: IrelandPerson: StringerPerson: O’GaraPerson: Peter StringerPerson: Ronan O’GaraPerson: Rob PenneyPerson: Simon ZeboPerson: Keith EarlsPerson: Niall RonanPerson: Duncan WilliamsPerson: Conor MurrayPerson: Ian KeatleyPerson: Denis HurleyPerson: ZeboPerson: Luke O’DeaPerson: James CoughlanPerson: Paddy ButlerPerson: Casey LaulalaPerson: Sean DougallPerson: EarlsPerson: RonanPerson: DougallPerson: Danny BarnesPerson: JJ HanrahanPerson: Billy HollandPerson: Nevin SpencePerson: SpencePerson: HollandPerson: NevinPerson: D HowlettPerson: K EarlsPerson: J DowneyPerson: S ZeboPerson: R O’GaraPerson: P StringerPerson: M HoranPerson: M SherryPerson: BJ BothaPerson: Donncha O’CallaghanPerson: B HollandPerson: Dave O’CallaghanPerson: N RonanPerson: P ButlerPerson: D VarleyPerson: W du PreezPerson: S ArcherPerson: D FoleyPerson: T O’DonnellPerson: C MurrayPerson: D BarnesPerson: D EvansPerson: T PrydiePerson: P LeachPerson: W HarriesPerson: A SmithPerson: A HughesPerson: A TuilagiPerson: L RoblingPerson: S JonesPerson: J EvansPerson: L DaviesPerson: J GrovesPerson: D LydiatePerson: T BrownPerson: T FaletauPerson: L EvansPerson: H StoddartPerson: N CuddPerson: I NimmoPerson: A JonesPerson: D WayPerson: T RyanPerson: A CoundleyPerson: P PricePerson: S ParryEvent: RaboDirect PRO12Organisation: MunsterOrganisation: Newport Gwent DragonsOrganisation: IrelandOrganisation: SaracensOrganisation: Newcastle FalconsOrganisation: EdinburghOrganisation: Munster AOrganisation: Ulster RavensOrganisation: DragonsOrganisation: UlsterOrganisation: RaboDirect
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