Thursday 22 February 2018

Jones has chance to shine under Kidney’s spotlight

Felix Jones has lots to gain with a good performance for Munster against Zebre
Felix Jones has lots to gain with a good performance for Munster against Zebre
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

ZEBRE arrive in Limerick tonight and everyone knows what is going to happen. Anything less than a bonus point will be looked upon as a failure for Munster.

The Italians will put up a fight for the first half, but having lost all of their Pro12 games since coming into existence, they are unlikely to last the 80 minutes at one of Europe's toughest venues.

The real interest at Thomond Park will come in how those in the running for Ireland's squad for the November internationals fare.

Felix Jones, in particular, has plenty to gain. He wasn't included in the squad for the games against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina, but Declan Kidney has said that he will add at least one name to his panel next week and, given the lack of full-backs, it is the Dubliner who has the biggest chance.

The Ireland coach is clearly a fan of the 25-year-old, having handed him a surprise World Cup place last year.

That was ruined -- as has been the case with so much of Jones' development -- by injury, and he is slowly making his way back into the set-up now.

Having been picked ahead of Munster's regular starter Denis Hurley, this is a chance to impress.

Struggling

With Keith Earls struggling for fitness and Tommy Bowe getting a run at No 15 for Ulster against the Dragons, a strong performance in his first start of the season could land Jones a big step-up.

Ian Keatley is another who has reason to impress, having been namechecked by the Ireland coach on Wednesday and, with Ronan O'Gara struggling for fitness, there could be an opening for himself or Leinster's Ian Madigan, who both cover fly-half and full-back.

Having been named in the squad, Simon Zebo faces stiff competition for the wing berth despite his strong Heineken Cup displays. The speedster should get plenty of opportunities.

Elsewhere, Donncha O'Callaghan and Donnacha Ryan combine in the second-row, with both men battling to partner Paul O'Connell in the international team against the Springboks.

There is a rare all-Irish front-row as tight-head Stephen Archer -- another referenced by Kidney -- gets a chance to impress alongside Dave Kilcoyne and Mike Sherry.

And in the back-row, Kidney's call comes again as Peter O'Mahony skippers the side from openside, with Paddy Butler coming in at No 8 and Dave O'Callaghan at blindside.

After his old Ireland U-20 team-mate Iain Henderson was called up to the full Ireland squad on Wednesday, JJ Hanrahan gets his chance to impress at inside-centre, with James Downey dropping out to rest his injured hand.

Youngsters Duncan Williams and Luke O'Dea also get a run as Conor Murray drops to the bench and captain Doug Howlett is rested.

After a strong finish gained a crucial Heineken Cup bonus point for his side against Edinburgh, head coach Rob Penney does not want momentum to stall this weekend against clearly inferior opposition, even with a five-day turnaround.

"It is always a real challenge when you come off an emotional high to be able to get the levels back up again to ensure you have a good performance; we have talked about it, the short turnaround, and it is a challenge for sure," said Penney.

Right

The Reds lost their last two league games before the Heineken Cup began and their Kiwi coach is hoping to put things right.

"Although Zebre have not got much success on the track, they have been really a challenge for the teams they played against. They have played some good footy and they battled right up to the end on a number of occasions, so we would be silly to underestimate them," Penney said.

"We have had a lot of away games -- it was great to get back to Thomond last week and on the back of last week I think we have made progress. We have got a bit of a run at home now which is wonderful; we're learning about every player each day."

Dave Ryan could feature against his old club, having been named on the bench for the Italians, who have picked up just one losing bonus in their five defeats so far.

Verdict: Munster to get the bonus point

MUNSTER -- F Jones; L O'Dea, C Laulala, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; Donncha O'Callaghan, D Ryan; Dave O'Callaghan, P O'Mahony (capt), P Butler. Reps: D Varley, M Horan, BJ Botha, B Holland, T O'Donnell, C Murray, J Murphy, D Hurley.

ZEBRE -- R Trevisan; D Odiete, G Garcia (capt), D Halangahu, M Pratichetti; A Chiesa, L Martinelli; S Perugini, A Manici, L Redolfini; E Caffini, J Sole; F Ferrarini, F Cristiano, A Van Schalkwyk. Reps: D Giazzon, M Aguero, D Ryan, F Cazzola, N Belardo, T Tebaldi, L Orquera, L Sarto.

Ref -- N Hennessy (WRU)

Munster v Zebre,

Live, TG4, 7.45

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