Erasmus backs Bleyendaal to make up for lost time as Reds chase bonus victory
Published 01/10/2016 | 02:30
Slowly, surely, the new-look Munster is revealing itself as the season unfolds.
Rassie Erasmus has expressed his frustration that injury has disrupted his team's ability to build cohesion during the opening weeks of the campaign, but with Leinster up next and Europe looming large there is little time to worry.
Instead, the South African can look at some positives as his side go in search of a third successive win against Zebre at Thomond Park.
It might not be the most appealing fixture, but the Limerick crowd will all be on their feet when Peter O'Mahony zips off his tracksuit and makes his way on to the pitch. After 51 weeks on the sidelines, the captain is back and Munster are always a better team for his presence.
Simon Zebo also strengthens things at full-back, while Tommy O'Donnell is cleared to play after his concussion problems and Springbok Jaco Taute - emergency cover for Francis Saili - makes his debut in the centre.
Amid the changes, there is a crucial continuity at half-back where Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal continue to build understanding.
Finally, the Kiwi out-half is getting some freedom from his injury issues and beginning to show the Thomond faithful why he was worth the wait.
"I know him from a while back and I can promise you he is a quality player," Erasmus said of his talented No 10.
"He has shown it in the last three games although he had that setback in the second game with the calf where we had to rest him a little bit. Last weekend we managed him.
"We will keep on doing it. By doing that we will obviously sometimes upset rhythm, but if you think next year, May, and how long we have to go, we have to do it that way. He is playing well."
Amid the experience, Erasmus has also handed first competitive starts to second-row Darren O'Shea and winger Alex Wootten.
O'Shea - who has returned to his home province after a stint with Worcester - has an opportunity to secure a starting berth for the foreseeable future amid an injury crisis at lock and he also has the benefit of having the experienced Donnacha Ryan to guide him through.
Sevens international Wootton will hope that there will be opportunities to shine against the struggling Italians who, despite their improvements this season, remain winless after three games.
"They could have won most of their games barring the one (against Ospreys)," Erasmus said. "The others they were really in the match and were unlucky against Dragons.
"Against Connacht they were right in the mix, it's going to be a nice physical one. I think last year the away game there was also tight for us. It will be a nice physical challenge.
"They don't want to go that expansive without really earning it, which makes them a tough opponent. Tthere is certainly something happening there with those two (Italian) teams.
"They are really competitive and nicely structured and it is not just the physical side. It will be another decent challenge this weekend. Even though it's at home it will be a challenge."
For all of that, Munster will expect to collect the maximum return before stepping up in class against Leinster, Racing 92, Glasgow Warriors and Ulster in the coming weeks.
They should have more than enough up front to deal with the physical element which the Italians are sure to serve up, meaning Murray and Bleyendaal should be operating off front-foot ball.
Taute gives them a carrying option, while Keith Earls offers a different threat with his pace and foot-work which will cause the Italians plenty of problems.
Munster have the weapons and should be comfortable.
Munster - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, K Earls, J Taute, A Wootton; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Casey, S Archer; D Ryan, D O'Shea; B Holland (capt), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander. Reps: N Scannell, J Cronin, J Ryan, P O'Mahony, C Oliver, C Oliver, D Williams, I Keatley, C Bohane.
Zebre - E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Castello, G Venditti; C Canna, G Palazzani; A Lovotti, T D'Apice, D Chistolini; Q Geldenhuys (capt), G Koegelenberg; J Sarto, J Meyer, F Ruzza. Reps: C Festuccia, B Postiglioni, G Roan, J Furno, D Minnie, C Engelbrecht, T Boni, L Greeff.
REF - D Phillips (IRFU)
Munster v Zebre, LIVE TG4, 5.0