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Munster's Simon Zebo in action during squad training

Munster's Simon Zebo in action during squad training

SPORTSFILE

Munster's Simon Zebo in action during squad training

League leaders Munster go into this evening's game with Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park (7.15) hoping that their momentum won't be lost following the news this week that head coach Rob Penney will leave the province at the end of the season.

Munster have only lost two of their 12 league games and with a Heineken Cup quarter-final on the horizon, there is plenty of competition for places.

Simon Zebo starts his first game since a foot injury last October with the in-form Johne Murphy keeping his place on the left wing. South African Gerhard van den Heever is rewarded for his excellent form with the 'A' side as he makes up an exciting back three.

Denis Hurley gets a start at inside- centre while Duncan Williams partners JJ Hanrahan at half-back. James Coughlan captains the side from No 8 and his battle with Munster-bound Robin Copeland is another fascinating sub-plot to this evening's game.

For Penney, he is only too aware of the threat that Copeland poses.

"He has ripped us up a couple of times when he played against us, at Musgrave Park and over there. He was a bit unheralded prior to that," he said.

Like Zebo, Dave Kilcoyne will be eager to prove a point to Joe Schmidt. Both players were left out of the Six Nations squad but know that strong performances in Munster's next two league games could force themselves into contention.

"These next two games are important for multiple reasons and one is the selfish undertone of each individual player needing to perform really well and try to open that door up into the Irish environment," Penney admitted. "I'm always disappointed when lads don't get in at that level.

"There's nothing they can do at this point to influence selections. It's the 80 minutes on the pitch that means the most."

Munster picked up a bonus-point win when the teams met in November but the home side will not need reminding that the Blues claimed a win in Musgrave Park in the league last season. Cardiff have been struggling for consistency and will be looking to capitalise on any friction that may be in the Munster camp since Penney's announcement.

But playing in Thomond Park against an experienced side that are fighting for cup places is a tough ask and that experience should see Munster to victory.

Prediction: Munster

Munster – S Zebo; G van den Heever, C Laulala, D Hurley, J Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, D Casey, S Archer; D O'Callaghan, D Foley; CJ Stander, B O'Mahony, J Coughlan (c). Repls: G Slattery, J Cronin, J Ryan, B Holland, S Dougall, C Sheridan, I Keatley, A Conway.

Cardiff Blues – D Fish; H Robinson, O Williams, G Evans, C Czekaj; G Davies, L Williams; S Hobbs (c), K Dacey, B Bourrust; C Dicomidis, P Paulo; M Cook, E Jenkins, R Copeland. Repls: M Breeze, T Davies, P Palmer, J Down, L Hamilton, L Jones, S Humberstone, I Tuifua.

REF – G Vivarini (Italy)

Irish Independent