Monday 24 July 2017

Munster youngsters ready to put heads together

Hugh Farrelly

FOLLOW that. After the incredible drama and intensity of Munster's last two Heineken Cup weekends, Edinburgh's visit to Thomond Park for tonight's Pro12 clash (8.30) lacks comparable box-office appeal.

However, in the long run, this match could carry even greater significance.

Ian Keatley and a host of youngsters have been handed the task of stepping into the shoes of Ronan O'Gara and the rest of the Munster heroes who secured those superb, last-play victories over Northampton and Castres.

It is a side that shows 13 personnel changes from the one which accounted for Castres last Saturday.

And, while coach Tony McGahan is constricted by a 13-man injury list (including Donnacha Ryan and Denis Leamy from last weekend) and the requirements of the player-management policy, this selection carries on the Australian's policy of promoting youth.

That approach has been as productive as it has been progressive, with the emergence of the likes of Conor Murray, Peter O'Mahony and Mike Sherry, and much interest tonight will focus on rookie winger Luke O'Dea, who arrives from Shannon with a reputation for sharp-stepping and gap-exploitation.

On the left wing, Simon Zebo has been knocking on the door for a while now while, after his excellent contribution against Castres, Will Chambers gets the opportunity to show whether Munster have found the solution to their problems at outside centre, with Danny Barnes switching back to 12.

After his injury and World Cup non-selection problems, Tomas O'Leary looks like he is finally getting back to his best form and provides crucial experience at scrum-half.

There is plenty of nous in the front five also between Marcus Horan, Denis Fogarty, Donncha O'Callaghan and captain Mick O'Driscoll.

Tight-head Stephen Archer and the back-row of Billy Holland, Tommy O'Donnell and Paddy Butler complete the pack and, while there is enough height and power to provide competitive set-pieces, the young back-row faces a tough battle against Ross Rennie and company at the breakdown.

Munster's strength at second-row is emphasised by the fact Ian Nagle still cannot get a starting place, but he should get a run in the second half, as should James Coughlan and Duncan Williams, two players with proven game-changing capabilities.

Michael Bradley's Edinburgh buzz into Limerick following a Munster-esque start to their Heineken Cup campaign, including one of the most remarkable comebacks of the competition's history against Racing Metro last weekend.

Bradley will like his prospects of building on this momentum tonight.

He has plenty of experience in a line-up that features the likes of Chris Paterson, Phil Godman, Mike Blair and Rennie, but also their own O'Dea in Seb Visser -- the 20-year-old younger brother of try-machine Tim -- who makes his competitive debut out on the wing.

"We've won three matches in a row, but it would be great to win four," says Bradley.

"To do that we need to keep our performance levels up and show the same commitment for 80 minutes that we have in these three previous games."

Edinburgh confidence is enhanced by beating Munster already in this campaign and they could have a bit too much for the home side tonight.

Sometimes, however, the result is not all that matters.

Verdict: Edinburgh

MUNSTER -- D Hurley; L O'Dea, W Chambers, D Barnes, S Zebo; I Keatley, T O'Leary; M Horan, D Fogarty, S Archer; D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll (capt); B Holland, T O'Donnell, P Butler. Reps: S Henry, J Ryan, J Hayes, I Nagle, J Coughlan, D Williams, T Gleeson, S Deasy.

EDINBURGH -- C Paterson; S Visser, J Thompson, J King, T Brown; P Godman, M Blair; K Traynor, S Lawrie (capt), J Gilding; S Cox, S Turnbull; N Talei, R Rennie, S McInally. Reps: A Kelly, R Hislop, L Niven, E Lozada, R Grant, G Laidlaw, H Leonard, G Hunter.

REF -- N Paterson (Scotland).

Munster v Edinburgh,

Live, TG4, 8.30

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