Wednesday 13 December 2017

Erasmus plays his cards right as Reds bid to keep in touch with pace-setters

Munster v Edinburgh, Live, Sky Sports, 3.0

Rassie Erasmus has yet to feature a first-choice combination in any line of his side. Picture: Sportsfile
Rassie Erasmus has yet to feature a first-choice combination in any line of his side. Picture: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

The more Rassie Erasmus keeps shuffling his pack, the more one wonders what way the cards may fall when he finally gets to choose from the full deck.

A month into the campaign and the South African has yet to feature a first-choice combination in any line of his side, and Munster's mid-table status befits such a staccato start.

Still, despite the ever speedy overhaul in personnel - and worryingly abrasive injury count - an expected victory against Edinburgh on their seasonal debut in Thomond Park this evening should ensure they keep in touch as the table prematurely develops all the look of a top six/bottom six split.

Erasmus is not happy with the inconsistency that has dogged Munster in these fledgling weeks during which they have lost a game they should have won against a decent side and, last week, won a game they could easily have lost against a poor one.

"There were different bits and pieces in the three games," said Erasmus, "some games we defended well and in other parts we were attacking well and kicking well; I want to bring it together now.

"After the first two games, we had terrible starts and in the third game we had a solid start and were building into it and were leading by seven points to get the confidence going, then an intercept pass and after half-time we made a lot of errors.

"Consistency would be great without losing. The toughest thing is when you struggle to get momentum going - it's a confidence thing. Players understand we need consistency in the way we execute."

That has been Munster's weather outlook in recent times; plenty of sunshine laced with dark clouds.

And so for a variety of reasons Erasmus is forced to change a third of his side this afternoon, with a new full-back, another novel midfield combination, while only the back-row remains untouched, but still without first-choice duo Tommy O'Donnell and Peter O'Mahony.

Dave Kilcoyne will make his first start of the season in the front-row while the return of Dave O'Callaghan at blindside sees captain Billy Holland - the Pro12's leading tackler to date - revert to the second-row.

Ian Keatley, one of only three players to have scored in excess of 1,000 points in the league (1,266 for Connacht and Munster), needs just five points to reach the 1000 mark for the Reds across all competitions, while Cian Bohane makes his first start of the season in midfield alongside returning hamstring victim Keith Earls.

Should he come off the bench, recent academy graduate and Ireland Sevens representative Alex Wotton, Macclesfield-born but Irish-qualified through Co Down parentage, will make his first competitive appearance in the back three.

Successfully rehabbing a neck injury, Stephen Archer is also included in a match-day squad for the first time this season.

Edinburgh have made seven changes from the side that finished strongly against Leinster last week and, with six newcomers to the bench and a host of seasonal debutants on the starting blocks, Alan Solomons is bringing a classic 'away-day' squad.

Three changes come in the backline: Michael Allen moves from wing to centre, with Damien Hoyland - who returns from a groin injury to make his first appearance of the season - starting in the No 14 jersey.

Allen is joined in the centre by Chris Dean, who comes in for the injured Phil Burleigh (shoulder).

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is set to wear the No 9 jersey for the first time this season in place of the injured Nathan Fowles (leg).

Amongst the four changes in the pack, Kevin Bryce makes his first start at tighthead prop, while Stuart McInally is named at hooker and captain of the side.


Munster's second-week defeat in Cork against Cardiff was their first in five, but in Limerick they haven't lost since Leinster visited here last Christmas.

In contrast, Edinburgh are one from six and they haven't won on Irish turf since a January 2015 success in Galway.

A slight chink of light for the visitors is the fact that their only win in the last nine was their most recent meeting here two years ago. Only the slightest chink, though.

Verdict: Munster

MUNSTER - I Keatley; D Sweetnam, K Earls, C Bohane, R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan, J Kleyn, B Holland (capt), D O'Callaghan, J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander. Reps: D Casey, J Cronin, S Archer, D Ryan, C Oliver, D Williams, D Goggin, A Wootton.

EDINBURGH - G Bryce; D Hoyland, M Allen, C Dean, T Brown; D Weir, S Hidalgo-Clyne, R Sutherland, S McInally capt, K Bryce, F McKenzie, B Toolis, M Bradbury, H Watson, C Du Preez. Reps: N Cochrane, J Cosgrove, A Dell, L Carmichael, J Hardie, S Kennedy, B Kinghorn, R Scholes.

REF - B Whitehouse (WRU)

Irish Independent

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