Howlett ruled out as Simon Zebo returns to Munster starting XV
MUNSTER captain Doug Howlett will miss Munster’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Harlequins on Sunday but Simon Zebo returns to take his place on the wing.
Zebo, as expected, passed his fitness test without incident and Denis Hurley has been preferred to Johne Murphy to take Howlett’s place in the starting XV with the Kiwi ruled out with a shoulder injury.
There had been concerns earlier in the week over the availability of Donnacha Ryan after he went through a particularly arduous Six Nations campaign with Ireland but he trained fully this week and starts
Ryan is named in the second-row alongside Paul O’Connell, who assumes the captain’s armband , while Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Zebo will also be returned to the starting team for Sunday’s game.
Meanwhile, Ronan O’Gara returns to the Stoop, a stadium with particularly good memories for him. He kicked 15 points on his debut there as Munster beat Harlequins 48-40 in 1997.
O’Gara has played in 107 European fixtures for Munster and kicked 1,342 points. There have been many highlights in the interim but inevitably memories of his debut will come flooding back when he rocks up to Harlequins’ modest stadium and he will be looking for a reprise of that performance there and a memorable Munster win.
He will again be charged with stagemanaging Munster in what could turn out to be his final appearance in a competition he has become synonymous with. O’Gara is contemplating retirement and the result and performance in west London could influence his decision significantly.
Munster XV to face Harlequins: F Jones, D Hurley, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo, R O’Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoye, M Sherry, BJ Botha,D Ryan, P O’Connell, P O’Mahoney, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
Replacements: D Varley, W Du Preez, S Archer, D O'Callaghan, P Butler, C Sheridan, I Keatley, I Dineen.