McGahan to pick side on 'gut instinct' for tricky Treviso test
MUNSTER coach Tony McGahan is poised to stick with the Jean de Villiers-Keith Earls midfield combination and keep David Wallace at No 8 for this weekend's crucial Heineken Cup trip to Treviso.
The Australian picked what looked to be his strongest available side for last weekend's Magners League clash with the Scarlets, but, although the cancellation of that fixture has disrupted Munster's preparations, there were strong indications in Cork yesterday that the coach would stick closely to the same selection for Saturday's match in Italy.
"We were really looking forward to seeing the combinations we selected against Scarlets in the forwards and the backs," said McGahan.
"But that opportunity was taken away from us and we really just need to go on gut instinct and feel what would be best without getting those combinations last weekend. So, some of those assumptions wouldn't be far from the mark."
Although Wallace is Ireland's incumbent open-side flanker and starred there for the Lions last summer, he excelled in the No 8 position when he played there last season, while the new centre partnership has tremendous potential, as the direct style of the in-form De Villiers looks to be perfectly complemented by Earls' quick feet at outside centre.
Furthermore, it allows Denis Hurley to remain in the back three, alongside Doug Howlett and Paul Warwick, where the Irishman's form has put him into Six Nations contention.
After last weekend's cancellation, the game has come too soon for loose-head prop Marcus Horan and hooker Jerry Flannery and McGahan acknowledged that Treviso's power in the front-row was a big factor in this decision.
Treviso defeated Perpignan in their opening pool game, led Munster for much of the first half in their second match at Thomond Park and troubled Northampton in their back-to-back clashes in December.
Although McGahan did not agree that Munster were "rattled" in the first half of their previous clash, the coach is very wary of the threat posed by the Italians.
"I thought we played really well in the first half, but the scoreboard did not reflect that," said McGahan.
"We had Marcus, who was in a bad way for the first 15 minutes. There were three or four scrums that were put back there and Marcus ended up missing the tackle on the short side that led to the first try.
"Treviso have been one of the best performing sides in the Heineken Cup. You look at the quality of the pool they are in and the quality of performances that they have put up. They turned over Perpignan in round one and led for significant parts of each of the other games they have played in. So, they represent an extremely big challenge.
"They have got a very well-organised game plan that tries to blend a strong set-piece to a very good and long kicking game with (Marius) Goosen and (Luke) McLean at 15.
"They are a very hungry and driven side. They are leading the Italian competition and their Heineken Cup form has been tremendous.
"If we don't start well this weekend and let them dominate the scoreboard the way they have in every other game, then it will be a difficult task to claw them back."