O'Gara and O'Callaghan looking to impress as Munster prepare for formidable test
Ronan O’Gara won’t be fazed by any additional scrutiny of his performance in west Wales this evening during this RaboDirect Pro 12 clash.
Jonathan Sexton’s injury and his current status within the Ireland squad leave him in the box seat to wear the number 10 jersey against Scotland.
The 35-year-old outhalf has successfully stared down many challenges with Munster and during his 127-cap haul for Ireland. He doesn’t care what other people think and it’s that mental strength with which he’ll arm himself as he looks to the twin goals of sharpening his game and leading his province to victory. He’ll need to accomplish both in the wake of last weekend.
O’Gara is not alone in being closely monitored. Donncha O’Callaghan will have the scent of opportunity in his nostrils. Ian Keatley is one of four outhalves that has been mentioned in despatches on the topic of Sexton’s replacement for Murrayfield.
This weekend though he is the apple in the box of oranges as he’s been chosen at fullback.
Munster coach Rob Penney’s primary ambition will be a little more subjective. He’ll be hoping that they’re notable constituents in a victory for the province. He has elected not to clutter O’Gara’s focus with the captaincy instead handing it to 24- year-old hooker Mike Sherry. It’ll be interesting to see how JJ Hanrahan fares in the centre. There are few who doubt his ability.
The province was given a twin fillip going into the game with the news that tonight’s replacement hooker Damien Varley and injured fullback Felix Jones have both agreed two-year contract extensions.
Jones is expected to be back in action at the end of the month or early March following minor knee surgery.
The Scarlets have won their last two matches, against the Leicester Tigers in the LV=Cup and last weekend over Connacht. Their coach, the former Ireland flanker Simon Easterby, has made three changes for the visit of Munster.
Welsh internationals, fullback Liam Williams and flanker Josh Turnbull, return while another Test player, centre Gareth Maule, has recovered from injury.
Easterby has retained faith in the young halfback partnership of Owen Williams (outhalf) and Aled Davies. And he admitted: “It’s tight at the top of the league table, so this game is a huge one for both sides as it’s a chance to take points away from each other. We knew how important the four league games were going to be for our season and it was a good start last weekend.”
SCARLETS: G Owen; L Williams, G Maule, A Warren, A Fenby; O Williams, A Davies; P John, E Phillips, J Adriaanse; G Earle, J Snyman; R McCusker (capt), J Turnbull, K Murphy. Replacements: K Myhill, R Jones, S Lee, J Ball, J Edwards, G Davies, A Thomas, N Reynolds.
MUNSTER: I Keatley; D Hurley, I Dineen, JJ Hanrahan, J Murphy; R O’Gara, D Williams; W du Preez, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, I Nagle; CJ Stander, T O’Donnell, P Butler. Replacements: D Varley, J Ryan, S Archer, B Holland, S Dougall, C Sheridan, D Barnes, C Laulala. Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland).