Thursday 12 December 2019

Exiles set to wheel out big guns for Munster showdown

Hugh Farrelly

LONDON IRISH are set to wheel out their southern hemisphere big guns when announcing their team today to face Munster in tomorrow's Heineken Cup clash in Reading.

Giant Springbok prop Faan Rautenbach, Tongan No 8 Chris Hala'ufa and Samoan flyer Sailosi Tagicakibau are all in the mix for the eagerly anticipated Madejski Stadium clash as coach Toby Booth seeks to get their European campaign off to a winning start.

Hala'ufa has been injured since pre-season but has recovered in time to come into contention for a place in the Exiles' match-day squad. George Stowers has been deputising at No 8 in Hala'ufa's absence and has impressed in London Irish's march to the summit of the English Premiership. The Samoan's form could see him hold on to the No 8 jersey, or Booth may opt to switch Stowers to the blindside flank with Kieran Roche dropping out.

There was further good news for Booth with the return to fitness of winger Tom Homer but it might have come too late for the England U-20 star to earn a place in the starting line-up.

However, Tagicakibau looks set for a return to the left wing at the expense of Jonathan Joseph, who started there in last weekend's 40-24 victory over Leeds.


Tagicakibau made a huge impression off the bench against Leeds, scoring two tries to help London Irish bag a bonus point and, if selected, he would complete a potent back three packed with pace alongside Topsy Ojo and Delon Armitage.

Rautenbach was also on the bench against Leeds but Booth may opt to bring the 14-cap South African into play as he seeks to neutralise Munster's much improved scrummaging power.

Booth says there is massive anticipation among London Irish fans ahead of this meeting with the Magners League leaders.

"The Irish connection is still very important to us," said Booth. "It is not a priority in terms of recruitment but it is a massive issue for the fans and that makes it important for the club.

"I know Bob Casey is immensely looking forward to that first game against Munster -- just as he was last season when we played Leinster, his home province.

"It only takes one guy to fuel that enthusiasm within the rest of the squad. He was close to tears after we won at the RDS, and that passion spread throughout the rest of the team.

"We are really excited about playing Munster. In my time here we have never played a competitive game against them so it is a nice final piece in the jigsaw for us."

LONDON IRISH (possible) - D Armitage; T Ojo, S Mapusua, D Bowden, S Tagicakibau; R Lamb, P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt), J Buckland, F Rautenbach; N Kennedy, B Casey; G Stowers, D Danaher, C Hala'ufa.

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