Zebo will start his last game at Thomond Park in play-off against Edinburgh

Zebo will start his last game at Thomond Park in play-off against Edinburgh
Simon Zebo in action at training this week. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

SIMON Zebo starts at full-back in his final game for Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday against Edinburgh, with 12 changes to the side that drew 24-all with Ulster last weekend.

Keith Earls and Andrew Conway start on either flank with Rory Scannell returning to the side at inside centre. Sammy Arnold keeps his place at outside centre.

JJ Hanrahan is also retained at out-half and is partnered by Conor Murray in the half-backs. Last week's Man of the Match James Cronin starts at loosehead with Rhys Marshall and Stephen Archer both returning to the side. Jean Kleyn and Billy Holland are back in the engine room with captain Peter O’Mahony, Jack O’Donoghue and CJ Stander making up the back row.

Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne and Ciaran Parker provide the front row cover while Gerbrandt Grobler and Robin Copeland are set to make their final Munster appearances at Thomond Park as replacements.

James Hart, Ian Keatley and Darren Sweetnam complete the bench.

The winners of the fixture travel to the RDS to face Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 semi-final on Saturday, May 19.

Munster will have to fight for every single minute in the PRO14 quarter-final.

Johann van Graan has had a baptism of fire as far as knockout rugby goes with Munster since he joined mid-way through the season.

There were the must-win games in the first couple of weeks of his tenure in the back to back games against Leicester. They were overcome.

Then there was a quarter-final against European kingpins Toulon last month and again Munster were forced to do it the hard way and came out the other side.

But in the space of 13 days the Munster boss could well see his side going from double hopefuls to ending their season on a low point. That adds a huge amount of extra pressure on the management and team tomorrow to make sure they keep one avenue for a trophy open.

Saturday's game will also go a long way to showing how much that management team and their players have learned from their exit from the Champions Cup.

A good start for the Reds will be half the battle. His team will be facing a side who have little experience or knockout rugby in recent seasons and the Munster coach can’t decide whether that is to his side’s advantage or not.

He reckons that while his side’s experience should give in theory give them an edge, that Edinburgh will be coming to Limerick with nothing to lose.

“That’s a difficult one to answer. They’ve got a quality coach (Richard Cockerill), I think he’s one of the best coaches in the world, they’ve got a lot of belief and they’ve got a very simple plan, so I think they’ll come here with nothing to lose,” says the Munster coach.

“They haven’t been in this situation a lot, they’re playing away from home, I think they’ll give it everything they’ve got.

“Knockout games, like every game of rugby are funny things. Pressure’s a funny thing, so from our side we hope we start well and apply some pressure and we hope we can put some points on the board.

“Hopefully it will count in our advantage. Once it gets into the last 20 minutes and maybe scores are close, who knows what might happen.

“You’ve also got to give credit and all credit to Edinburgh. 

"They’ve come from my perception, I won’t say from nowhere but nobody’s seen them coming and a lot of guys still don’t see them but they are a red-hot team, playing some fantastic rugby.” 

Johann van Graan. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Johann van Graan. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

While van Graan isn’t looking beyond this game he says that come pre-season for next season he will make a few changes to the way Munster do things.

“I said from the first day I’m not going to come in and change, we’re going to enhance. I think we’ve surprised quite a few teams by some the things we’ve been doing but if you want to change habits you need to do it consistently, so there’ll be a few changes in the pre-season leading into next season and into the next.

“Obviously there’s a fantastic foundation from the coaching staff before me so it’s about keeping what’s worked really well and improving maybe one or two areas,” said the Munster head coach.

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