Horan returns to stake claim for No 1 spot
MARCUS HORAN will start his first game for Munster in nearly six months when he runs out against the Dragons in Musgrave Park tonight as Tony McGahan's side bid to consolidate their lead at the top of the Magners League table.
The 66-times capped Grand Slam-winning loose-head has had his season disrupted by injury but still has designs on making Ireland's World Cup squad, and tonight is an opportunity to remind national coach Declan Kidney of his ability as he tries to reclaim his status of first-choice Munster loose-head from Wian du Preez.
There is plenty of youth in tonight's selection to go with the nous of Horan, captain Mick O'Driscoll and Denis Leamy, notably at half-back where scrum-half Conor Murray makes his first senior start alongside Declan Cusack.
Winger Simon Zebo and second-row Ian Nagle are also on hand to bring the average age of the team down, while James Coughlan slots in at open-side alongside Leamy and Donnacha Ryan.
Coughlan is a natural No 8 but has the skills and all-round game to thrive across the back-row, while you would imagine he will swap positions with Leamy during the course of the match.
There is also the welcome sight of Denis Fogarty, another player whose season has been injury-blighted, in the middle of the front row, while McGahan has selected a bench dripping with internationals of the calibre of Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Alan Quinlan, Sam Tuitupou and Peter Stringer.
The Dragons are mid-table but are going for three wins in a row against Munster. They are unbeaten in their last five matches in all competitions, having not lost in the Magners League since New Year's Day.
However, a glance through their team-sheet reveals few big names beyond veteran Grand Slam-winning second-row Rob Sidoli.
MUNSTER -- J Murphy, D Howlett, L Mafi, P Warwick, S Zebo; D Cusack, C Murray; M Horan, D Fogarty, S Archer; I Nagle, M O'Driscoll (capt); D Ryan, J Coughlan, D Leamy. Reps: D Varley, W du Preez, T Buckley, A Quinlan, T O'Donnell, P Stringer, S Tuitupou, D Barnes.
DRAGONS -- W Harries; A Hughes, T Riley, P Leach, M Pewtner; J Tovey, W Evans; H Gustafson, S Jones (capt), B Castle; S Morgan, R Sidoli; A Coombs, T Faletau, J Bearman. Reps: L Burns, P Palmer, P Price, A Jones, L Evans, A Smith, J Evans, M Jones.
REF -- P Allan (Scotland).
Munster v Dragons,
Live, RTE 2, 7.30