Wednesday 13 December 2017

Munster's lesser lights given chance to shine

David Kelly

David Kelly

After being broiled in Brive last week and protecting a yawning lead in the table this weekend, Tony McGahan has wisely decided to let the majority of his European stalwarts cool their heels for the visit to West Wales.

Only three of those who so thrillingly demonstrated the Australian coach's commitment to the expansion of Munster's game are retained to face the Scarlets this evening -- Mick O'Driscoll, Lifeimi Mafi and captain Denis Leamy, who switches to No 8.

Six of the replacements in Brive last weekend start this time around, the exception being John Hayes, who is again on the bench.

Denis Hurley was expected to make a return to action but tweaked a hamstring in training yesterday and that means a start for youngster Danny Barnes on one wing with another young gun, Simon Zebo, on the other.

"After three challenging weeks, a rotation of the playing group allows us to rest many of the starters coming into a busy and competitive period," noted McGahan, conscious that his side may only need a bonus point to confirm a home semi-final.

Competition

"It also allows for competition within the squad for opportunities across the 23 and there is no better place or opposition for players to test themselves than Scarlets in their home ground."

With the Welsh side harbouring vague ambitions to make a late push for inclusion in the top four and themselves proud heirs of a running rugby tradition, this could be a fun hors d'oeuvre before the meatier inter-provincial clash.

Sixth-placed Scarlets must win to keep their hopes of a play-off place alive and they field a strong back division, with some changes to accommodate returning Scottish international Sean Lamont, who comes into the centre alongside Kiwi star Regan King.

Wales centre Jon Davies is ruled out as he's still recovering from a dead leg from the Scarlets' last outing against Ulster. Morgan Stoddart and George North provide pace, creativity and power on the wing and Rhys Priestland takes the pivotal role at No 10.

Wales fly-half Stephen Jones is coming back from injuring his wrist against Ulster and will start on the bench. Australian No 8 David Lyons returns to the starting line-up after recovering from a knee injury. Ben Morgan is ruled out with slight hamstring strain and Peter Edwards is ruled out with a bruised shoulder.

The Scarlets' only home Magners League defeat in their last six matches at Parc y Scarlets was 18-16 to Ulster in February and they are winless in their last six encounters with Irish opponents.

Munster have won their last six games in all competitions, including three in a row away from home. Their only loss to a Welsh team in the Magners League last season was 20-6 at Newport Gwent Dragons in November.

Indeed, Munster have won their last 10 clashes with the Scarlets in all competitions since a 24-15 defeat as the then Heineken Cup holders in the old Stradey Park in the 2007 quarter-final.

Verdict: Scarlets

Llanelli Scarlets -- M Stoddart; G North, R King, G Maule, S Lamont; R Priestland, T Knoyle; I Thomas, M Rees (capt), R Thomas, L Reed, J Turnbull, R McCusker, J Edwards, D Lyons. Replacements: E Phillips, R Jones, S Gardiner, A Shingler, D Welch, G Davies, S Jones, S Williams.

Munster -- P Warwick; S Zebo, J Murphy, L Mafi, D Barnes; D Cusack, P Stringer; M Horan, M Sherry, S Archer; D Ryan, M O'Driscoll T O'Donnell, N Ronan, D Leamy (capt). Replacements: D Fogarty, D Hurley, J Hayes, A Quinlan, P Butler, D Williams, S Tuitupou, S Deasy.

Ref -- A Lewis (IRFU).

Llanelli Scarlets v Munster

Live, S4C/TG4, 6.15

Irish Independent

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