O'Mahony gets chance at No 7
FACING a rugged but uninspired Aironi outfit in a Pro12 clash at Musgrave Park may not appear the most attractive of prospects on the surface, but tonight's game throws up more than a few enticing possibilities for Irish rugby.
Beginning with the Munster back-row, where Peter O'Mahony starts at openside in an extremely mobile unit alongside Denis Leamy and James Coughlan. O'Mahony captained the side last time out from No 8 and has had an eye-catching start to the season while Munster's Ireland contingent were away at the World Cup.
Starting the 22-year-old at No 7 is statement of intent by coach Tony McGahan and a wonderful chance for O'Mahony to stake his retention claims for the upcoming league fixture against Leinster and the start of the Heineken Cup campaign in two weeks' time.
Following a World Cup which re-emphasised the importance of scavenging opensides, O'Mahony's contribution at the breakdown will be closely scrutinised, while his line-out and ball-carrying abilities add significantly to Munster's armoury.
Paul O'Connell resumes in the captaincy role and is one of six World Cup returnees, alongside Leamy, Donnacha Ryan, Conor Murray, Ronan O'Gara and Keith Earls. With Donncha O'Callaghan on the bench, Ryan gets the chance to impress in the second-row enforcer role, while Murray should be looking to nail down his recently acquired status as the top scrum-half in the country.
Tomas O'Leary's is on the bench, while Peter Stringer and Duncan Williams fail to make the 23.
It's a powerful selection and one that should be capable of matching the forward power of the Italians. Being able to call on the South African propping pair of Wian du Preez and BJ Botha, with Marcus Horan and John Hayes providing cover, suggests that Munster are ready to put their scrum woes of last season behind them.
Earls' World Cup displays elevated him to the status of one of the game's most lethal finishers and he's in his most effective position of left wing, with Doug Howlett and full-back Johne Murphy carrying equally progressive back-three instincts alongside.
New signing Will Chambers and Danny Barnes form an experimental centre partnership and, when added to a bench jammed with experience, it's a combination that should ask serious questions of Aironi.
McGahan has handled his World Cup exodus well and, though they lost at home to Ospreys last time out, second place in the table represents a more than decent start to the season.
Aironi have lost their last two games, to Cardiff and Leinster, and have yet to seal an away win in this competition. They have some surnames well known to Munster in Masi, Orquera, Ongaro, Bortolami and Sole, but not enough overall quality to cause an upset.
O'Gara won the Man of the Match award at Musgrave Park in his first match back for Munster after the 2007 World Cup and is set to dominate again. That has been the way of it for over a decade with O'Gara, so it is the performances of the youngsters around him and their capacity to reach those sorts of standards that will attract the greatest attention tonight.
MUNSTER -- J Murphy; D Howlett, W Chambers, D Barnes, K Earls; R O'Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D Ryan, P O'Connell (capt); D Leamy, P O'Mahony, J Coughlan. Reps: D Fogarty, M Horan, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, N Ronan, T O'Leary, S Deasy, L Mafi.
AIRONI -- R Trevisan; S Sinoti, A Masi, G Pavan, G Venditti; L Orquera, T Keats; M Aguero, F Ongaro, F Staibano; J Furno, M Bortolami; N Cattina, S Favaro, J Sole. Reps: R Santamaria, S Perugini, L Redolfini, Q Geldenhuys, F Ferrarini, T Tebaldi, N Olivier, G Toniolatti.
REF -- P Allan (Scotland).
Munster v Aironi,
Live, TG4, 8.30
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