Penney looks to lay down marker
A SUNDAY teatime kick-off at Musgrave Park at the end of a monster international weekend and two depleted teams, tomorrow's Pro12 clash between Munster and Scarlets is not, it is fair to say, the most glamorous of fixtures.
Rob Penney won't care though, as he begins the run-in to the crunch back-to-back Heineken Cup clashes against Saracens with a tilt at the league's second-placed side.
The Irish province currently sits in fourth, six points behind tomorrow's visitors.
Both sides are deprived of a host of internationals, but it is testament to the strength in depth down south that Penney still names two All Blacks, two Springboks and nine Ireland internationals in his match-day 23.
The New Zealander was glad to get a break after an incessant introduction to the northern hemisphere game and believes that the two weeks off has left his side in rude health.
"It has been a great two weeks for us to reflect on where we've been and take a deep breath and reassess. Also we've been able to work on things that will hopefully put us in good stead going into the next part of the programme," he said.
Felix Jones gets more game time at full-back after a long-term absence as Denis Hurley, who started for Ireland last weekend, takes a place on a potent bench alongside JJ Hanrahan, CJ Stander and BJ Botha.
Ian Keatley partners Duncan Williams in the half-backs, while the pack looks strong with Stephen Archer given another opportunity at tighthead. Paddy Butler will hope to build on his strong displays for Munster 'A' against Leinster last weekend.
The Scarlets started the season strongly but have lost their way somewhat since. They are also without a slew of front-liners, but Penney reckons they will be tough to beat in Cork.
"They will be challenging. They have lost a few, as we have, to international duty, but they have a good young side," he said.
"A lot of lads have come through from their 'A' side of a few years ago and they have come through to play big roles now, so they will be tough."
Niall Ronan is given another opportunity to stake his claim for the openside jersey as he continues to ease his way back from a long-term knee injury.
"I was out for the bones of nine months and I'm very hungry to get back. It has been very frustrating and I'm hoping to get back to the way I was playing last season," Ronan said.
"We're going into the game without all the internationals, but we beat Cardiff in the last game and that was a boost. We're very confident of being able to compete against any team and we're playing at home where we are unbeaten and want to keep it that way."
Munster should have more than enough to dismiss the Welsh side and should be targeting the bonus point to ratchet up the momentum ahead of the two big pre-Christmas European clashes.
MUNSTER – F Jones; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, J Downey, L O'Dea; I Keatley, D Williams; W du Preez, M Sherry, S Archer; I Nagle, B Holland; Dave O'Callaghan, N Ronan, P Butler. Reps: D Varley, M Horan, BJ Botha, D Foley, CJ Stander, P Stringer, JJ Hanrahan, D Hurley.
SCARLETS – M Stoddart; N Reynolds, G Maule, G Owen, A Fenby; A Thomas, G Davies; P John, E Phillips, J Adriaanse; J Ball, R Kelly; G Earle, J Edwards (capt), C Price. Reps: K Myhill, S Hopkins, S Lee, J Snyman, D Thomas, R Williams, D Newton, A Warren.
REF – L Cardona (France).
Munster v Scarlets,
Live, TG4, tomorrow, 5.15