End of the Rainbow approaches as Munster make nine changes for Connacht

Final could still be against South African opposition as uncertainty reigns
End of the Rainbow approaches as Munster make nine changes for Connacht

Billy Holland starts for Munster this Friday night at Thomond Park. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

FOR Munster it is a case of two down and one to go, as they look to complete a mini Interpro by seeing off Connacht at Thomond Park on Friday evening, which should keep them on track for a place in the Rainbow Cup final.

There are nine changes to the starting 15 from last week’s 38-10 win over Ulster as Matt Gallagher, Damian de Allende, Ben Healy, Craig Casey, James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland and CJ Stander all start.

MUNSTER: Matt Gallagher; Andrew Conway, Dan Goggin, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; Ben Healy, Craig Casey; James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (c), CJ Stander.

Subs: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Tadhg Beirne, Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Keith Earls.

Such is the ridiculous nature of this competition though, we learned this week there is a possibility that the Rainbow Cup Final may still have South African involvement, should Covid cases allow, so the final may well be a meeting of the top sides in the European and South African tables in this tournament.

This would mean a moving of the goalposts mid-competition, as up until now we have been led to believe that the top two sides in the European table would contest the final.

For this to change now seems absurd, but it shows how desperate the organisers are to get the new South African franchises in on the Pro14 act as soon as possible. It is important to point out though, that we still do not know how this competition is going to conclude.

Should the above be the case then there will obviously be less scope for dropped points from a Munster viewpoint, if they are to gain that final berth, although given that only they and Benetton have managed to win both of their opening two games in the competition it looks like the odds are in their favour should they simply keep on their winning run.

A home tie against Cardiff Blues, followed by an away tie at Zebre, finish off Munster’s league campaign.

You would always back Munster to win at home, and you would also fancy them to win against a Zebre side with nothing to play for. Should Benetton fail to see off Connacht and the Ospreys, which is a big ask considering they failed to win a single Pro14 game this season, then Munster would be guaranteed a place in the final.

Given the manner in which Munster dismantled Ulster last weekend, coupled with the way that Connacht completely collapsed against Leinster, Munster should be targeting nothing short of a bonus point victory on Friday.

Connacht led 16-0 at home in the early stages last weekend at the Sportsgrounds, but in a crazy first half they shipped five tries in 26 minutes and looked a beaten docket by halftime.

They ended up conceding eight tries in total, and it is difficult to see how Andy Friend can lift spirits to such an extent that they could get in a position to take a rare Thomond Park scalp.

Connacht will hope to bolster the pack they selected last week, as Leinster completely obliterated them at maul time.

While Johann van Graan’s side have played some brilliant rugby in the wins over Leinster and Ulster they will have taken note of this deficiency in Connacht’s game, and will undoubtedly go after it.

Ulster's Michael Lowry tackles Shane Daly of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Ulster's Michael Lowry tackles Shane Daly of Munster. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

One of Munster’s best players in those two aforementioned wins was scrum half Conor Murray, who has been rewarded for his recent good form by being selected on Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad, and it was extremely noticeable how little Murray resorted to using his tried and tested tactic of box kicking in those ties.

Munster instead backed themselves to 'KBA, to Keep The Ball alive, and they were rewarded for their efforts with some wonderful team tries.

The likes of Shane Daly and Rory Scannell prospered with such an approach, and with van Graan looking to utilise his whole squad in these games we can expect others to get their opportunities in the remaining ties.

Munster fans will be keen to see young half backs Ben Healy and Craig Casey get a run, while every minute that emerging tight heads Roman Salanoa and Keynan Knox get at this level can only be seen in a positive light.

The injury setback suffered by RG Snyman has been one of the few negatives emerging from the Munster camp in recent weeks, as everyone was hopeful to see the Springbok play some part in these games, while another untimely injury has also robbed Munster fans the chance to get a further glimpse at the emerging force that is Waterford second row Thomas Ahern.

Ultimately you would have to think that Munster can see off Connacht any way they want in this one.

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