Wednesday 24 May 2017

Masterful Munster shuffle pack in quest for formidable foursome

Captain Billy Holland (p) will be joined by Dave O’Callaghan in the second row. Photo: Sportsfile
Captain Billy Holland (p) will be joined by Dave O’Callaghan in the second row. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

There was a time, when perhaps they were less certain of themselves and needed such tools, that Munster would self-motivate by declaring stoutly, "yerra, ye'll never beat us twice".

What then say Glasgow, champions of this Guinness PRO12 just two seasons ago - destroying Munster in the process - who face the unenviable prospect of losing for a fourth time to the Irish province should their title hopes end in Irish Independent Park?

When Glasgow stormed past Munster in that Belfast final two seasons ago, it seemed to mark a crossroads for the two sides.

Munster had, of course, also lost to the Scots in the previous season's semi-final.

Now that the same team had, indubitably, beaten them twice, the stage seemed set for a period of domination from Glasgow as Munster declined.

Instead, April 2017 sees Munster salivating in the prospect of a sell-out Aviva Champions Cup semi-final clash against reigning European champions Saracens, where they will aim to provide sterner opposition than the English side's quarter-final victims - Glasgow, as it happens.

Munster will shed few tears for their demise; if Leinster and Ospreys developed a singularly feisty rivalry a few years back, this current Celtic conflict is just as tasty for the neutrals.

From complains that Conor Murray was targeted in Europe to the apparent objection from the Scots pertaining to Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber's persistent prowling along the touch-line (his designation as a club physio allows him to), there is as much respect as there is spite between this pair.

In sporting terms, though, Munster stand apart and, even though Glasgow will be hurting after their relatively tame European exit against an admittedly awesome Saracens, they have left themselves too much to do in terms of making the play-offs.

Opting for careful circumspection ahead of reckless valour, Munster have made wholesale changes but still remain competitive and, even if Murray were fit, it would have been wholly ill-judged to include him here.

Keith Earls and CJ Stander will also continue to nurse their wounds as Rassie Erasmus makes 10 changes to the side that saw off a doughty but limited Toulouse so professionally last weekend.

James Cronin, Rhys Marshall and Stephen Archer make up a new front row, with Dave O'Callaghan coming in to join captain Billy Holland in the second row.

Jean Deysel, of whom much physicality is expected, is set to make his first appearance for the province, having been named in a new-look back-row.

The South African is joined by No 8 Jack O'Donoghue and open-side Conor Oliver, who has been in impressive form for Munster A.

There is no change at half-back but the return of Francis Saili alongside Jaco Taute for the first time is bound to attract opprobrium up north;: featuring two non-Irish qualified players in the same midfield simply laughs in the face of the IRFU policy on overseas recruitment.

Ronan O'Mahony, the top-try scorer in the competition this season, and full-back Andrew Conway both re-join Darren Sweetnam in the back three as Erasmus seeks to juggle his resources.

As Guy Noves famously once said, trying to catch two hares may cause one to let both slip from the grasp.

"Our mindset has changed a little bit," Erasmus admitted. "I am not saying at all that we diminish the importance of the PRO12, just player management-wise.

"We must take more chances to see can we get as fit and as on form a squad when we get into the semi-finals, but we are also playing formidable teams like Glasgow and Ulster.

"Trying to beat them can really secure you a semi-final as well.

"It's a little bit of juggling act and we don't have all the answers yet."

Munster have maintained the tight-rope so far and don't look like falling off today.

Verdict: Munster

Munster - A Conway; D Sweetnam, F Saili, J Taute, R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, D Williams; J Cronin, R Marshall, S Archer; D O'Callaghan, B Holland (capt); J Deysel, C Oliver, J O'Donoghue. Reps: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, J Ryan, D Ryan, P O'Mahony, A Lloyd, R Scannell, S Zebo.
Glasgow - S Hogg; T Seymour, N Grigg, A Dunbar, L Jones; F Russell, A Price; G Reid, F Brown, S Puafisi; B Alainu'uese, J Gray (capt); R Harley, R Wilson, A Ashe. Reps: P MacArthur, A Allan, D Rae, S Cummings, C Fusaro, H Pyrgos, P Horne, R Hughes.
Ref - N Owens (WRU).

Munster v Glasgow,
Live, TG4, 7.35

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