Munster reveal strong starting 15 for trip to Scotland

Reds can close in on Pro14 final appearance with a victory against Edinburgh
Munster reveal strong starting 15 for trip to Scotland

Shane Daly at Ireland training. The Cork man has been released back to Munster for this weekend's game. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

MUNSTER face Conference B rivals Edinburgh at the Murrayfield Stadium on Saturday evening.

They have made nine changes from their last outing on January 30, including the return of Andrew Conway, who is released from the Ireland squad along with Shane Daly, Craig Casey and Chris Farrell.

MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, D de Allende, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan, C Casey; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland (c); J O’Donoghue, C Cloete, G Coombes.

Subs: K O’Byrne, J Loughman, S Archer, F Wycherley, J O’Sullivan, N McCarthy, B Healy, R Scannell.

This is their first competitive outing in three weeks and they are hoping for a victory that would move them another step closer to the Pro14 Grand Final on March 27.

Munster head into this block of five games, on five successive weekends, 10 points clear of second place Connacht at the top of Conference B, and they will know that if they can emerge undefeated from the next two weekend’s away matches in Edinburgh and Cardiff then they will in all likelihood be too far ahead of Connacht when they meet on March 5 at Thomond Park in Round 14.

Edinburgh are not having a great season this year, with them garnering only four wins from 10 rounds to date, but it must be remembered that it was they who denied Munster the top spot in Conference B last year, thereby effectively denying them a possible place in the final itself.

Head coach Johann van Graan at training this week. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Head coach Johann van Graan at training this week. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

These two sides met at Thomond Park back in Round 2 on October 10 when Munster needed a late Ben Healy conversion from a CJ Stander try to rescue the evening, as Munster were extremely fortunate to edge the encounter 25-23.

On that occasion Edinburgh centre Mark Bennett caused the Munster defence a lot of bother, so Johann van Graan’s side will certainly try to limit his influence this time around.

The 28-year-old has 22 Scottish caps but is not currently part of Gregor Townsend’s plans so Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill can build his attack around him right now.

Munster had a really useful run out against the Connacht Eagles last Friday, with a lot of their inexperienced squad members getting valuable game time, in the 16-7 victory up in Galway, with the tries being scored by loosehead prop Jeremy Loughman and former Ireland U20 winger Conor Phillips.

With there being no AIL rugby this year, for obvious reasons, there is no club activity for the younger squad members to fall back to, so such a run-out was badly needed by most.

Young Cork Con out-half Jack Crowley was amongst the young Munster players that showed up well at the Sportsground and he will be very keen to add to his one appearance to date, which came in the away defeat to Ulster over a month ago.

Connacht’s Conor Dean and Conor Fitzgerald tackle Jack Crowley of Munster in the A game last week. Picture: INPHOJames Crombie
Connacht’s Conor Dean and Conor Fitzgerald tackle Jack Crowley of Munster in the A game last week. Picture: INPHOJames Crombie

This eagerness for game time seems especially relevant given the news released from within the Munster set-up in the last few days that Joey Carbery has ‘increased his training load’ as he gets ever closer to a return to action after more than a year out of the game.

The Munster coaching staff are obviously being extremely patient with the Irish international, but if his ankle holds up to these more strenuous training sessions, then we will hopefully see Carbery back in the Munster red during this five-game stretch, which could prove absolutely crucial in terms of Munster’s long hunt for silverware.

Obviously, a Carbery return would further limit game-time for the likes of Crowley and also impact on the on-field time of regular out-halves JJ Hanrahan and Ben Healy, but no doubt it is a selection headache that Johann van Graan is looking forward to having to deal with.

RETURN

Four Munster players who had been away on Ireland duty have been released back to the province this week, as they got no game time in the defeats to Wales and France, and therefore probably need game time with Munster.

Shane Daly, Chris Farrell, Craig Casey and Andrew Conway are the players in question, and you would imagine that the Munster backline could be in line for a major boost should they be picked for selection on Saturday night.

There is a big bunch of Munster players who are reaching the ends of their current contracts in the close season, and you would imagine these players are quite anxious about their future employment prospects at the moment.

The next five weeks, and probably six assuming they top the Conference and reach the Grand Final, should ensure that most members of the Munster squad get chances to impress to stake claims for badly needed contract renewals.

This rush for new deals, the inevitable competition for places that this will bring, and the return from injury of the likes of Carbery should ensure that Munster are in the perfect position to have a right crack at winning their first trophy in a decade.

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