Wednesday 26 June 2019

Reds ready to see off Blues' second string

Keith Earls is to make his return. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Keith Earls is to make his return. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

It's a good time to be in the temporary seating business. Between the Sportsground last night and Thomond Park on St Stephen's Day it's been all about accommodating the hordes who want to go and watch live rugby at this time of year. So where the normal capacity in Limerick is 25,600, for Tuesday they will be able to shoehorn a total of 26,267 into position. And with luck they will get value for money.

The modus operandi for these gigs is to load up for your home games and spread the love for the spin up or down the motorway. So Leinster are lighter than they will be on New Year's Day when Connacht come to the RDS. Which is not to say they will be steamrollered by a Munster side for whom captain Peter O'Mahony will be winning his 100th cap.

Hitting the ton is a significant milestone for anyone in such a brutal sport. So while O'Mahony will get extra attention leading the team out for this, Munster supporters will be equally relieved to see a handful of rehabbed players coming out behind him. Rhys Marshall and Andrew Conway, both in flying form until concussed over the last two weeks, are back on track. And the return of James Cronin on the bench for the first time since tearing a calf muscle playing for the Barbarians last month is hugely welcome.

So too the return of Keith Earls. Munster are not short of back three options these days but having Earls on the field is very important to them. Along with Tommy O'Donnell it's his first game since the loss to Connacht at the end of October.

Significantly the half-backs and midfield stay the same as the unit that got Munster successfully through the European back-to-backs with Leicester. Every minute spent together at centre for Rory Scannell and Sam Arnold is an investment in a very promising partnership.

While Johann van Graan makes just four changes from the team in Welford Road last weekend Leo Cullen wades in with both feet. Robbie Henshaw, Devin Toner and Jack Conan are the only survivors from the win over Exeter in the Aviva.

For Jack McGrath it will not only be a welcome start but his first time captaining the team. Given his loss of form - he has slipped well behind Cian Healy, who had looked resigned to playing out his days in McGrath's shadow - this will be an interesting exercise. His side are certain to be under intense pressure from a Munster mob keen to repeat their Christmas win here of last season. And they will be odds on to get it.

Munster: A Conway; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander, T O'Donnell. Replacements: N Scannell, J Cronin, J Ryan, D O'Shea, J O'Donoghue, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo.
Leinster: J Larmour; B Daly, R O'Loughlin, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath (capt), J Tracy, M Bent, D Toner, J Ryan, J Murphy, J Conan, D Leavy. Replacements: R Strauss, E Byrne, T Furlong, M Kearney, J Van der Flier; N McCarthy, C Marsh, N Reid.
Referee: N Owens (Wales)

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