Friday 24 November 2017

Penney hands Reds fringe players a licence to thrill

Munster's Denis Hurley will be hoping the province can maintain their recent fine form Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Munster's Denis Hurley will be hoping the province can maintain their recent fine form Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Munster's last-minute Heineken Cup heroes in Perpignan have been given a licence to thrill as Rob Penney urges the Cork rugby public to come out and support his exciting team in Musgrave Park.

Supersub trio Denis Hurley, Tommy O'Donnell and JJ Hanrahan, who scored the astonishing last-gasp try to stun Perpignan in France last Saturday's rollercoaster European tie, all start against the Scarlets in tonight's Pro12 clash (7.15).

Penney's side are on the crest of a swashbuckling wave at the minute and they head into this evening's game looking to make it eight wins on the bounce, while also continuing their free-scoring form in Cork which has seen them rack up 57 points and score seven tries in just two games this season.

And, although Penney makes 12 changes to the side as he switches from European to Celtic fare, it is no coincidence that some common threads from those two Cork outings will again be on show -- from the half-back pairing and midfield combinations to an electrifying back-row, while the return of former Leinster flyer Andrew Conway from injury adds another twist.

So it's not surprising that Penney has come over all PT Barnum in his attempts to drum up some Cork support for a Munster organisation who are clearly trying to dispel the perception since their full-time relocation to Limerick that they have abandoned their erstwhile part-time home.

FAITHFUL

"I hope so, yeah, I'd like to see the Cork faithful come along and support the lads," says the Kiwi ahead of tonight's rare appearance on Leeside.

"The guys are playing a brand that's interesting to watch and a bit thrilling at times so if you want a good night's entertainment get down to Musgrave Park."

Even with the radical overhaul of personnel with an eye to the inter-provincial clashes either side of the new year, there is a lot for Munster supporters -- and neutrals -- to enthuse about in this selection.

And, given that Scarlets, under the charge of former Ireland blindside stalwart Simon Easterby, traditionally play an aesthetically pleasing style of the game, one would hope that the conditions won't prove inimical to throwing up a decent ball game.

Billy Holland returns to captain a pack in which only BJ Botha retains a starting berth; scrum-half Cathal Sheridan and Casey Laulala -- now seemingly bound for Racing Metro next term, not Grenoble -- are the only other two players required to start in successive weeks.

Dave Kilcoyne and Duncan Casey, making his competitive starting debut and first Pro12 appearance following his appearance from the bench in Thomond Park against Perpignan a fortnight ago, form the rest of the front-row grunt.

Holland is joined in the second-row by Ian Nagle, both players coming into the side after starting together for Munster 'A' last weekend. Dave O'Callaghan, Tommy O'Donnell and CJ Stander form a back-row brimming with supportive, attacking intent.

Ivan Dineen partners Laulala in midfield while the luckless Conway will make just his fifth start for the province on the left wing after recovering from a blow to the knee sustained against Cardiff Blues.

South African Gerhard van den Heever takes his place on the opposite wing for his second start since signing from Western Province, and his home debut, while Denis Hurley will be at full-back.

Cork Constitution out-half Johnny Holland is amongst the replacements and will be hoping to earn his second Munster cap in front of the home crowd after his appearance off the bench against Cardiff Blues.

Another notable name on the bench is that of development prop Alan Cotter, who makes his first appearance in the match-day 23 and could make his debut.After their home drubbing by Clermont last weekend, Easterby has also rung the changes ahead of festive internecine squabbling, making nine switches, one positional, to his side.

Wales international Liam Williams and centre Gareth Maule are the only remaining backs, with Williams moving from full-back to the wing.

Gareth Owen returns to full-back with Aled Thomas replacing Rhys Priestland at out-half and young international Rhodri Williams coming in at scrum-half.

Ken Owens retains his place at hooker with Rob Evans and Jacobie Adriaanse making up the front-row in place of Phil John and Samson Lee.

George Earle is replaced at second-row by Richard Kelly, with the back-row of Josh Turnbull, John Barclay and captain Rob McCusker the only unchanged combination.

Munster have won all four matches they have played against Welsh sides this term, while the visitors' only win in their last five matches in all tournaments was a squeaky 24-21 at Connacht, their only success on the road since November 2012.

Munster won 14 successive games against the Scarlets between April 2007 and December 2011, but they are winless in the last three fixtures between the sides as the Scarlets sneaked a 13-6 win at this venue early last term.

"Scarlets have been performing really well and probably haven't picked up a few results that they could have," says Penney. "We're not underestimating them for a minute and they'll be a real challenge."

Verdict: Munster

Munster -- D Hurley; G van den Heever, C Laulala, I Dineen, A Conway; JJ Hanrahan, C Sheridan; D Kilcoyne, D Casey, BJ Botha; I Nagle, B Holland (capt); D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, CJ Stander. Reps: D Varley, A Cotter, J Ryan, D O'Callaghan, B O'Mahony, D Williams, J Holland, R O'Mahony.

Scarlets -- G Owen; L Williams, G Maule, A Warren, K Phillips; A Thomas, R Williams; R Evans, K Owens, J Adriaanse, J Ball, R Kelly, J Turnbull, J Barclay, R McCusker (capt). Reps: E Phillips, S Hopkins, R Jones, J Snyman, D Thomas, G Davies, R Priestland, M Poole.

Ref -- N Owens (WRU)

MUNSTER V SCARLETS,

LIVE, TG4, 7.15

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