Munster look to end poor campaign with first steps to redemption
THERE is something strange about the scenario Munster find themselves in tomorrow. The European pool stages have arguably never had a more finely-poised final day, but the drama kings are playing out a dead rubber.
Sale Sharks know the score, sending over their reserves to Limerick to fulfil a fixture they long ago lost interest in.
Steve Diamond's team gave a good account of themselves on their return to Europe, but their interest was effectively ended when Ian Keatley landed his dramatic drop-goal at the AJ Bell Stadium back in October.
They are likely to finish the campaign winless despite running all three of last year's semi-finalists close in Manchester and can reflect on their campaign with satisfaction.
Tomorrow's hosts have very different emotions when they look back at their first Champions Cup campaign. Anthony Foley and his management team have had a week to reflect on their side's capitulation at Allianz Park and have largely decided to give the same players a shot at redemption.
There are a couple of enforced changes, with Felix Jones' bruised knee seeing Simon Zebo move to full-back and Ronan O'Mahony come on to the left wing, while Dave O'Callaghan replaces CJ Stander as Peter O'Mahony shifts to No 8.
There is also a start for Keith Earls at outside centre alongside Denis Hurley as Pat Howard drops to the bench.
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Named in the 46-man Ireland squad on Thursday, the Moyross native is in a race to be prove his fitness for the Six Nations after a long absence and his presence adds some sparkle to the Munster midfield.
Duncan Williams keeps his place for want of any alternatives after his nightmare outing last weekend, while the tight-five are given another chance after being destroyed in the tight by Saracens.
"We're all in this together," Foley said. "We're not shying away from anything. We understand the position we are in, we take the good days and we also share the bad days and that when we lift trophies they will be the moments that we know have earned it.
"We're all disappointed after the weekend, we're all gutted, shattered, whatever word you want to use. It's been a long few days, a very dark few days. "
MUNSTER - S Zebo; A Conway, K Earls, D Hurley, R O'Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin, D Casey, BJ Botha; D Foley, P O'Connell; D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, P O'Mahony (c). Reps: E Guinazu, J Ryan, S Archer, B Holland, R Copeland, I Dineen, JJ Hanrahan, P Howard.
SALE SHARKS - L McLean; T Brady, A Forsyth, M Jennings, T Arscott; N MacLeod, Will Cliff; A de Marchi, T Taylor, R Harrison; A Ostrikov, J Beaumont, M Easter, D Seymour (c), V Fihaki. Reps: C Neild, J Flynn, C Parker, G Nott, A Hughes, N Fowles, J Ford, M Haley.
Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)
Munster v Sale,
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