Tuesday 20 March 2018

Erasmus' big guns can end Ulster's play-off push

Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

This is the kind of fixture the Guinness PRO12 should be all about. An inter-provincial clash with the two protagonists as strong as they could possibly be and with plenty on the line.

Rassie Erasmus has resisted any temptation to put his leading lights in cold storage for next week's European Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens, while Les Kiss has unsurprisingly decided to come to Thomond Park fully locked and loaded.

It should make for a good game, with the northern province in the last-chance saloon if they want to have a chance of making the top four and have a chance of sending Ruan Pienaar off with a medal.

Munster, meanwhile, have a lucrative home semi-final within their grasp and by choosing almost all of his available front-liners, their South African supremo shows his intent.

Jaco Taute is marked absent, while CJ Stander and Conor Murray remain out - but Tyler Bleyendaal and Donnacha Ryan have fulfilled their concussion protocols and start, with Ian Keatley returning to the bench alongside James Cronin whose knee injury is not as serious as was feared.

Having kept them in reserve last week, Peter O'Mahony, Niall Scannell, Ryan, Rory Scannell and Simon Zebo come into the starting XV.

As expected, Jared Payne misses out for Ulster with his ankle problem and former Ireland U-20 Jacob Stockdale replaces him at full-back, and Andrew Trimble comes on to the wing ahead of Craig Gilroy. Chris Henry comes into the back-row.

Having drawn with Cardiff Blues last weekend, Kiss's men are in must-win territory at a venue where they have rarely tasted success.

"There's a reason why that is," Trimble admitted.

"It's such an intimidating atmosphere and theirs is such a physical pack. You have to play out of your skin to get a win.

"We all know how big a challenge it is and how tough it is to go down there. Just to get that balance of how big a challenge, how much we're asking of ourselves but on the other side, how much we're capable of.

"That balance of being daunted, having the right amount of respect for it, but also knowing what we're capable of producing out there.

"If you've been there in the past when we've won, you know how deep you have to dig but it's a challenge that I think we're looking forward to."

On paper, they have the team to deliver a result but there is little in their form to suggest they have it in them to get the kind of win that would transform their prospects.

Verdict: Munster

MUNSTER - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Ryan, B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue. Reps: R Marshall, J Cronin, S Archer, D O'Callaghan, J Deysel, A Lloyd, I Keatley, A Conway.
ULSTER - J Stockdale; A Trimble (capt), L Marshall, S Olding, C Piutau; P Jackson, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Best, W Herbst; K Treadwell, A O'Connor; I Henderson, C Henry, S Reidy. Reps: R Herring, C Black, R Ah You, R Diack, C Ross, P Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy.
Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)

Munster v Ulster,
Live, Sky Sports 3, 3.0

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