De Villiers eager to ensure silver lining to stay at Munster
Costly Springbok recruit Jean de Villiers will tonight start his first game for Munster since announcing that he is quitting the province after just one season, with his sights firmly set on winning a league and cup double.
Munster could return to the top four and a play-off position in the Magners League by beating and thus leapfrogging their Scottish visitors, Edinburgh, at Musgrave Park.
"They travel with a very strong-looking side and I think that indicates their intentions," warns Munster team manager Shaun Payne.
"It's such a competitive league now, all the sides have improved over the years but perhaps particularly Edinburgh and Glasgow. Edinburgh are third in the table and I believe they'll travel with a fair degree of confidence. But we're looking forward to it. It'll be good to get back playing again. It should be a cracking game."
Thanks to the bad weather, the last side selected by coach Tony McGahan was a team brimming with Grand Slam-winning talent. What a difference a month makes. Tonight's side sees nine changes from the abortive selection for the postponed game against Scarlets on January 10.
Six of those changes are brought about by the non-availability of the internationals, with positional changes seeing Paul Warwick switch from full-back to out-half, Denis Hurley moving to the last line, with Ian Dowling coming onto the wing. Last time around Wian du Preez was in the loose-head role ahead of Marcus Horan, but a fit-again Horan takes his place in an otherwise unchanged front row.
Mick O'Driscoll leads the side from second-row alongside Donnacha Ryan, while the one change in the back row sees James Coughlan in for David Wallace at No 8, where he performed in Munster's last outing against Ulster in Ravenhill.
There's a decidedly youthful look to the Munster bench, with academy duo Mike Sherry and Scott Deasy included along with development pair Duncan Williams and Tommy O'Donnell. Jim Hamilton, the Scotland lock, is the only member of the side that lost to Wales to be named in Edinburgh's starting line-up, the near 20-stone forward needing games to improve his match fitness after spending the first half of the season out with a knee injury.
Missing due to Scotland duty and/or injury are Phil Godman, Chris Paterson and Ross Ford, while still in the treatment room are four back-rows in the shape of Allister Hogg, Ross Rennie, Scott Newlands and Simon Cross, hooker Sean Crombie, and backs Jim Thompson and Andrew Easson.
However, Scottish coach Andy Robinson, like Declan Kidney, has agreed to release bench players provided they were fit enough. Hence, Alan MacDonald returns after an emergency stint on the wing in the Millennium Stadium, while utility back Mike Blair and prop Allan Jacobsen start on the bench.
David Blair, now recovered from an ankle injury suffered in December, wins a rare chance to remind supporters of his ability at stand-off.
The Scots are one of only two teams not to have had their campaign disrupted by the weather last time out. Munster have not lost at home for over a year and they have won five of their last six matches in all competitions.
Edinburgh's 12-7 home win over Munster earlier this season ended a five-game losing run to the Irish side and they are seeking to emulate their only previous league double over Munster in season 2003/04.
However, Munster's back line looks particularly stronger than the visiting combination and their more experienced pack should be able to lay a solid platform to secure victory.
Munster v Edinburgh,
Live, Setanta Sports 1 , 8.0
Munster -- D Hurley; D Howlett, L Mafi, J de Villiers, I Dowling; P Warwick, P Stringer; M Horan, D Fogarty, T Buckley; D Ryan, M O'Driscoll (capt); A Quinlan, N Ronan, J Coughlan. Reps: M Sherry, J Brugnaut, B Holland, T O'Donnell, D Williams, S Deasy, T Gleeson.
Edinburgh -- B Cairns; M Robertson, N De Luca, J Houston, T Visser; D Blair, G Laidlaw (capt); K Traynor, A Kelly, G Cross; J Hamilton, S MacLeod; A MacDonald, R Grant, D Callam. Reps: R Grant, A Jacobsen, C Hamilton, F McKenzie, M Blair, R Hutton, S Webster.
Ref -- Tim Hayes (WRU).