Munster can’t afford any early slip-up against mediocre Edinburgh
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Paddy Butler: included in the Munster line-up to face Edinburgh at Murrayfield. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Edinburgh may have impressed in this competition, reaching the semi-final in 2012, but anything short of victory would leave Munster potentially facing an early exit from Europe. This is a must-win fixture simply because Edinburgh have been so shocking in the Pro 12.
Tough job. The problem is their average players are some way below average as sound defeats to Cardiff, Scarlets and Ospreys recently proved. They shipped 95 points in those three games, registering just 31.
The return of their captain and scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw in theory gives them an advantage as Munster are without Peter O’Mahony.
But it’s not really any advantage at all as they turn to Paul O’Connell. The 33-year-old may be announced as Ireland captain in the next fortnight, unless Joe Schmidt opts to stick with Jamie Heaslip. Either way, Munster will not suffer in the leadership or decision-making stakes in O’Mahony’s unenforced absence.
This really is a strange situation. Munster confirmed on several occasions this week that O’Mahony was not concussed by Seán Cronin’s knee last Saturday. The decision to remove him from the fray at half-time against Leinster was taken by Dr Tadhg O’Sullivan.
O’Mahony told us on Tuesday that he did not suffer a concussion. On Thursday night Munster released a team that didn’t include their captain for the first European Cup game of the season. The reason? He was being saved for other European, Pro 12 and possibly even international games.
They reiterated that he was not suffering from concussion and also stated that he passed the psychometric and physical tests that are required as part of the return to play protocols.
Anyway, it provides a huge opportunity for Paddy Butler who was promoted from AIL duty with Shannon, where he played number eight against Corinthians last weekend, before watching the Leinster game from the stand.
Dave O’Callaghan performed well when given a similar opportunity last year but he must be satisfied with the number six jersey for the A team’s game against Stirling County in Bandon. Same goes for Andrew Conway as Denis Hurley is retained among the Munster reserves.
CJ Stander was passed over in the backrow selection process but the South African will probably see some game time. As will fellow countryman BJ Botha who stays benched as Stephen Archer is another home-grown player to get his shot on the main stage.
Veteran Scottish loosehead Alastair Dickinson will be asking Archer the pertinent questions at scrum-time.
If that becomes an area of concern, Rob Penney can always unleash Botha.
Edinburgh do have enough quality in their backs, particularly Tim Visser and a fit again Matt Scott, to score tries from distance. But presuming the Munster scrum picks up where it left off against Leinster then these players will be too busy defending the likes of Simon Zebo and Keith Earls to make an offensive impact.
Munster should really be thinking bonus point from around the hour mark.
Or maybe Edinburgh’s recent form is all a big ruse to lure Munster into a half-empty Murrayfield and unleash hell. Highly unlikely. Munster by at least two scores.
EDINBURGH: J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; H Leonard, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel; G Gilchrist, S Cox; D Basilaia, C Du Preez, D Denton. Replacements: A Lutui, L Blaauw, G Cross, O Atkins, R Grant, S Kennedy, JDominguez, S Hidalgo-Clyne.
MUNSTER: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D Ryan, P O’Connell (capt); P Butler, N Ronan, J Coughlan. Replacements: D Varley, J Cronin, BJ Botha, D O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, D Hurley.
Referee: JP Doyle
Betting: Edinburgh 10/3, Munster 2/9.
Forecast: Munster to win.