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Wallace back in picture as Munster look to cut loose

WHEN Manu Tuilagi crashed into David Wallace causing the Ireland flanker to thump the ground in agony, there were many sitting in the Lansdowne Road sunshine who wondered if they would see him on the rugby pitch again.

But fast-forward six and a half months and the 72-times capped Ireland and Lions star returns to the field in a sleepy backwater of European rugby. He will be hoping more glamour awaits, but after months of operations and rehabilitation on his damaged knee, the 35-year-old won't care where he is if he makes an appearance off the bench.

Joining him among the replacements is Sligo native Cathal Sheridan, who was just nine when Wallace made his debut for Munster in the 1997-98 season. The Academy scrum-half could make his own bow if sprung from the bench for Duncan Williams, with resources stretched after Tomas O'Leary's Ireland recall.

Mick O'Driscoll leads the side once again in this rearranged match, alongside Billy Holland in the second-row. Prop Stephen Archer starts ahead of BJ Botha who is held in reserve, while Dave O'Callaghan, Tommy O'Donnell and Paddy Butler form an inexperienced back-row.


Simon Zebo is released by Ireland to start on the wing with Felix Jones and Denis Hurley in a potent back-three. Save Tokula partners Lifeimi Mafi in the centre, as Scott Deasy joins Williams at half-back.

Second-placed Munster will be confident of closing the gap on leaders Leinster with a win over the bottom side, who succumbed to the Blues 22-6 last weekend -- their third defeat on the trot.

Winning this game would put Tony McGahan's side clear of third-placed Ospreys and close the gap to eight ahead of their meeting with Leinster after the Six Nations. The Reds have only lost one of their last 10 matches and can complete a clean sweep of the Italian sides with victory at Stadio Zaffanella.

Six Ronan O'Gara penalties did the damage at Musgrave Park when the sides last met and McGahan will be hoping for some tries from his charges this time round.

Verdict: Munster

AIRONI -- T Tebaldi; R Pavan, M Pratichetti, G Pizarro, S Sinoti; L Orquera, T Keats; M Aguero, R Santamaria, L Romano; G Biagi, C Del Fava; F Ferrarini, N Cattina, J Sole. Reps: F Ongaro, A De Marchi, S Perugini, F Cazzola, E Caffini, G Bronzini, N Olivier, A Benettin.

MUNSTER -- F Jones; D Hurley, S Tokula, L Mafi, S Zebo; S Deasy, D Williams; W du Preez, M Sherry, S Archer; B Holland, M O'Driscoll (capt); Dave O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, P Butler. Reps: D Fogarty, M Horan, BJ Botha, I Nagle, D Wallace, C Sheridan, I Keatley, L O'Dea.

REF -- D Wilkinson (IRFU).

Irish Independent