Saturday 24 February 2018

O'Donnell commits as Foley rings changes

Munster's Tommy O'Donnell
Munster's Tommy O'Donnell
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Another of Munster's large out-of-contract contingent has committed to the province as Tommy O'Donnell penned a new three-year deal last night.

The news comes as a boost for Anthony Foley, who has already secured the services of CJ Stander this week, while holding out hope that Simon Zebo, Keith Earls and Conor Murray can be convinced to continue in red beyond the end of the season.

Zebo is the only of the high-profile contingent being asked to make the short-hop to Wales for tomorrow's clash with Newport Gwent Dragons.

With just a six-day turnaround between tomorrow's visit to Rodney Parade and the first of Munster's crunch pre-Christmas meetings with Leicester, Foley has decided to risk this result by resting a slew of frontline players.

Opportunity knocks for a host of men who might have considered their chance of facing the Tigers slim as Earls, Ian Keatley, Donnacha Ryan and Stander miss the trip to Newport and injured pair Murray and Francis Saili also sit this out as they hope to return for next Saturday evening's battle with the Tigers at Thomond Park.

The head coach is banking that his squad players can account for the out-of-form Dragons while seizing the opportunity to impress.

For the likes of Dave Foley, who has been squeezed out of the starting XV by Ryan and Mark Chisholm, it's a chance to make a mark.

"We have five big games coming up, but we are not looking any further than the Newport game to get back up and running again," the Tipperary second-row said.

"The Leicester games will look after themselves really. You could fall into a trap of looking ahead and that certainly would do us no favours.

"Newport are a good side and they have done quite well at home this season too. We are going over there with a good squad and we are going over there to try and win and put a performance together."

Although they headed to Killarney for their Christmas party after losing to Connacht, Monday's video review session of the defeat fairly knocked the festive spirit out of them.

"It doesn't matter what province it is, you don't want to lose to them," Foley said. "That is the first time in 29 years, we have lost to Connacht and I'm only 27. We looked back at Connacht early this week.

"We had our Christmas party in Killarney on Sunday after the game. We had a few beers with each other and tried to forget about it. A lot of us would have come in early this week and had a look at the tapes.

"You are gutted after the game, but you have to move on quickly. There is no point or it does not serve you well to look back all the time.

"If it is the only loss we have in Thomond Park this year, you know it would not be the worst thing in the world then. You have to learn from it.

"Having only 25pc of the ball and a poor lineout delivery, we cannot repeat that."

That will be up to young hooker Niall Scannell and Foley's partner Chisholm to rectify, while Dave Kilcoyne and John Ryan are charged with holding up their end of the bargain against a hard-nose Dragons scrum.

In the back-row, Robin Copeland is the senior man alongside Dave O'Callaghan and Shane Buckley, while Rory Scannell partners Tomas O'Leary at half-back.

Zebo returns on the wing in a talented back-three as Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino takes over at full-back and Ronan O'Mahony wears the No14 shirt. David Johnston gets a chance to impress outside Denis Hurley in the centre.

The Dragons have been unable to carry their end-of-season form from 2014-15 into this campaign and sit fourth from bottom, having only beaten the two Italian teams.

They have included Taulupe Faletau, but look low on quality elsewhere. Foley will hope to escape injury free and with the points, while also re-introducing Tyler Bleyendaal off the bench.

Verdict: Munster

NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS - C Meyer; T Prydie, A Hughes, A Warren, A Hewitt; D Jones, S Pretorius; B Stankovich, TR Thomas (capt), B Harris; M Screech, R Landman; L Evans, N Cudd, T Faletau. Reps: R Buckley, P Price, L Fairbrother, C Hill, E Jackson, C Davies, J Tovey, R Wardle.

MUNSTER - LG Amorosino; R O'Mahony, D Johnston, D Hurley (capt), S Zebo; R Scannell, T O'Leary; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Foley, M Chisholm; S Buckley, D O'Callaghan, R Copeland. Reps: K O'Byrne, J Cronin, M Sagario, B Holland, J Coghlan, C Sheridan, T Bleyendaal, G van der Heever.

Ref - G Conway (Ireland)

Dragons v Munster,

Live, S4C, tomorrow, 2.30

Irish Independent

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