Donncha O’Callaghan is edging ever closer to making 400 top class professional appearances in a remarkable career that shows no signs of coming quickly to an end.
The 37-year-old former Munster and Ireland hero will be back on home ground at Musgrave Park this evening (7pm) with Worcester Warriors. He is guaranteed a start, or finish, for the club he joined the start of last season.
So far, O’Callaghan has played 397 top class games at all levels. The pre-season friendlies for Worcester against Clermont Auvergne and Jersey and a run in Cork tonight won’t swell that tally, but O’Callaghan will be anxious to show his readiness for yet another campaign as his side tunes up for the Premiership.
And his presence is bound to bring the fans out in their droves, especially after new Munster coaching director Rassie Erasmus yesterday showed intent by rolling out many of his top players for the fixture. After relying heavily on the youngsters in the squad in last week’s opening game —a 17-0 win over Zebre — Erasmus will turn to proven campaigners to ramp up his preparations.
Internationals James Cronin, Tommy O’Donnell and Simon Zebo will line out but a huge focus will be on injury returnee Tyler Bleyendaal and new signing Jean Kleyn.
Erasmus again names an extended squad of 29 with four emerging academy talents in line to see some game-time.
Cronin comes in to join Niall Scannell and John Ryan in the front row while, on the day he turns 23, South African Kleyn makes his first Munster appearance in partnering captain Billy Holland in the second row. O’Donnell joins the back row at open side with Dave O’Callaghan and Jack O’Donoghue remaining in situ at No. 6 and No. 8 respectively.
Having overcome a quad injury that saw him make just five competitive appearances last season, Bleyendaal returns to partner Duncan Williams in the half-backs, while in midfield a new pairing sees Rory Scannell team up with academy player Dan Goggin, the latter making his first senior start. Erasmus will be anxious to see this pairing perform with Francis Saili out injured for at least another three months.
Last weekend’s try scorers Darren Sweetnam and Ronan O’Mahony remain on the wings with Zebo lining out at full-back.
A further three academy talents — Brian Scott, Conor Oliver and Stephen Fitzgerald — are included on the bench with recent academy graduate Alex Wootton set to win his first senior cap. Colm O’Shea, who started last weekend, is also named on the bench and Munster confirmed yesterday the former Leinster centre has signed a short-term three-month contract.
But hooker Mike Sherry has undergone a procedure on his back and will be sidelined for approximately three to four months.
S Zebo; D Sweetnam, D Goggin, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; T Bleyendaal, D Williams; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland (captain); D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, J O’Donoghue.
D Casey, P McCabe, J Andress, B Scott, D O’Shea, D Foley, C Oliver, R Copeland, T O’Leary, I Keatley, A Wootton, C Bohane, C O’Shea, S Fitzgerald.
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