Monday 18 December 2017

Penney rings the changes in bid to cure Toulon hangover

Out-half JJ Hanrahan gets his chance to shine for Munster against Edinburgh. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Out-half JJ Hanrahan gets his chance to shine for Munster against Edinburgh. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

After the plane bringing them from Cork to Edinburgh had an unintended stopover in Dublin Airport yesterday, Munster will be hoping there will be no false starts in the unfamiliar surrounds of Meggetland this evening.

Rob Penney has decided the best hangover cure is to make sweeping changes to his devastated side after their missed opportunity against Toulon.

Only four starters from the Stade Velodrome survive the cull; interestingly, three of those are Lions and the other is CJ Stander, who impressed in the heat last weekend's battle. Paul O'Connell assumes the captaincy, JJ Hanrahan is given control of the tiller and Tommy O'Donnell starts.

The Ospreys' dreadful defeat to Zebre on Thursday has eased the pressure on Munster as they chase second-placed Glasgow Warriors in the race for a home semi-final.


They will be glad not to be returning to the soulless cavern of Murrayfield, where their season almost went off the rails back in October.

Meggetland is a 3,000-capacity ground, so it should provide a more appropriate setting than Scotland's national stadium.

Edinburgh's season is petering out, but this is Greig Laidlaw's final game before he moves to Gloucester and the captain will be looking to sign off with a win.

Munster have had just six days to recover from the jarring disappointment of their performance in the Heineken Cup semi-final and some of the players have admitted how hard it has been.

The visitors will look to the likes of Gerhard van den Heever, Andrew Conway and Johne Murphy to prove a point, having been left out of the squad altogether last weekend, with Murphy partnering Denis Hurley in a centre partnership we might be seeing more of next season.

Up front, James Cronin is back at loosehead, joining Duncan Casey and John Ryan in a new-look front-row, while Donncha O'Callaghan is reunited in the second-row with O'Connell and Paddy Butler starts alongside Stander and O'Donnell in the back-row.

They'll certainly be targeting Edinburgh's tight five, where regular No 8 David Denton is drafted into the second-row.

Former Ulster coach Alan Solomons has picked a match-day 23 with just eight Scots, with the rest coming from South Africa, Namibia, Georgia, New Zealand, Australia, England and Argentina.

Given that the country only has two professional team, it seems a real waste of resources.

With tonight's clash their final home game in a disappointing season, it should get something firing, but Munster's win in Connacht can set the template for how they go about their business here.

That night, they used the pace of wings Conway and Van den Heever to exploit the Westerners' mistakes and Penney spoke highly of former Leinster man Conway's magic feet after the clash in Galway.

However, the duo could be vulnerable in defence, as Connacht showed with their set-piece move try two weeks ago. With Tim Visser on the left wing, Edinburgh will look to test the visitors.

Still, Munster should have the quality if they can get their heads right.

The hurt of losing to Toulon could feed into a response or it could still cloud their judgment. We shall see.

With potentially four games left in his tenure, Penney is determined to secure a medal to take to Japan as tangible reward for his efforts, but the route to the final is looking tricky and is likely to include a trip back to Scotland in the semi-final.

All they can do is to keep winning and hope for a slip-up somewhere.

Verdict: Munster

Edinburgh – J Cuthbert; T Brown, M Scott, A Strauss, T Visser; C Bezuidenhout, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel; G Gilchrist, D Denton; M Coman, T Leonardi, C Du Preez. Reps: J Hilterbrand, W Blauuw, S Berghan, B Toolis, D Basilaia, G Hart, P Francis, S Beard.

Munster – S Zebo; G van den Heever, J Murphy, D Hurley, A Conway; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Cronin, D Casey, J Ryan; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt); CJ Stander, T O'Donnell, P Butler. Reps: D Varley, D Kilcoyne, A Cotter, D Foley, J Coughlan, D Williams, I Keatley, L O'Dea.

Referee – M Mitrea (FIR).


Irish Independent

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