Reds hope Murrayfield can inspire returning Irish heroes
IF muscle memory means anything to the modern athlete, then Munster trio Conor Murray, Paul O'Connell and captain Peter O'Mahony will already have the upper hand when they trot out upon the Edinburgh turf tonight.
It is three weeks since the trio collected the Six Nations crown in the darkness; there were probably more supporters in Murrayfield at the end of that unforgettably emotional Saturday than will be there today.
Their return will galvanise a Munster side whose league form is a far cry from those distant early season days when their own supporters were abandoning the listing ship with frightening regularity.
As with Ulster, though, an asterisk must be placed against Munster's irrepressible quest for a home Guinness Pro12 semi-final; their self-inflicted stumble from European competition has allowed them to focus completely on saving face in the league.
Nonetheless, they have done so admirably and, with their hosts concentrating on Europe next week, Anthony Foley's men face a milder examination than they might have expected.
But the Scots have been a transformed outfit themselves and their goals are no less important; along with Scarlets and Connacht, they are involved in that desperate scramble to claim a Champions Cup slot for next term.
Edinburgh possess muscle memory, too, albeit theirs is hewn from a more distant time; an opening-day ambush in Thomond Park.
And Foley was so concerned by the threat posed by Alan Solomons' men that he travelled to Reading to see their impressive win against London Irish last Sunday evening, significantly noting their strength in depth.
"I went over and looked at them in London Irish at the weekend and they were very impressive," says Foley, who has picked a formidable side for the task.
"They were very physical. It was a hard-fought game and they came out the other end of it.
"They have excellent half-backs. You look at their wingers Dougie Fife and Tim Visser, Greig Tonks played full-back at the weekend, so they have a lot of ability and a lot of quality players.
"They're well guided with Solomons there and although our opening-day defeat was a long time ago, we do understand that we have to go over there and do a job.
"We know they are a very physical side and they've done a number on us already this year. We need to make sure we're properly prepared to go over to Murrayfield."
Including the return of his talismanic trio, Foley makes six changes to the side that defeated Connacht at Thomond Park a fortnight ago and, not surprisingly given his comments, all are in the pack.
An all-new front-row sees Dave Kilcoyne and BJ Botha pack down either side of Duncan Casey, who makes his first start since the end of January.
O'Connell returns to partner the in-form Billy Holland in the second-row, while the inclusion of O'Mahony is the only change to the back-row.
The final change comes in the half-backs, with scrum-half Conor Murray resuming his partnership with Ian Keatley.
James Cronin is included amongst the replacements for the first time since picking up a knee injury on his Six Nations debut against Italy in February, while Donnacha Ryan also takes his place on the bench having completed his return to play protocols following a concussion sustained while playing for Munster 'A' against the Ulster Ravens last month.
There was also good news for scrum-half Cathal Sheridan who, after almost five months on the sidelines with a forearm injury, may tog out for UL Bohemians in their Ulster Bank League clash against Corinthians in Thomond Park.
"I'd be disappointed if the lads don't hit the ground running at the weekend," adds Foley. "They know the task at hand. We understand what we have to do, but it's actually doing it that's key.
"Edinburgh may have another big European game on the horizon but that won't take their focus off this weekend. They're playing at home and there's only a few games left and just like us they are fighting for a European place next season.
"They're currently toe to toe with Connacht for sixth spot and will be keeping their eye on the ball. We expect them to put in a big performance this weekend."
Solomons retains the side that eventually started in Reading last Sunday - Tonks played at full-back because Dougie Fife had withdrawn before kick-off with a nose injury.
Edinburgh have won their last three matches in all tournaments since tripping up in Cardiff at the beginning of last month, a setback that had followed a run of eight successive victories in all competitions.
Munster have lost just one of their last six Pro12 matches, a poor performance resulting in a heavy 26-12 defeat against the Ospreys; before that shock opening-day defeat, they had accumulated five successive wins against the Scots.
"We need to go after them from the off, we have to, they are a quality side with some great performances of late," says Munster's jilted Irish wing Simon Zebo.
"They also have some deadly finishers and we haven't forgotten the lesson they taught us in September at Thomond Park.
"This is a really big game for us, all the remaining games are. With the race for qualification so tight, every game is like a cup final for us."
Inspired by their key leadership figures, expect them to launch another winning sequence from today.
Edinburgh - G Tonks; D Fife, P Burleigh, A Strauss, T Visser; T Heathcote, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dickinson, R Ford capt, WP Nel, A Bresler, B Toolis, R Grant, H Watson, D Denton. Reps: S McInally, G Shiells, J Andress, F McKenzie, T Leonardi, N Fowles, S Beard, T Brown.
Munster - F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, D Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Casey, BJ Botha, B Holland, P O'Connell, P O'Mahony capt, T O'Donnell, CJ Stander. Reps: E Guinazu, J Cronin, S Archer, D Ryan, D O'Callaghan, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, R O'Mahony.
Ref - I Davies (WRU)
Edinburgh v Munster,
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