Munster’s bench can help them escape to victory
Irish province hoping to maintain push for home semi-final against Edinburgh
Munster’s Simon Zebo will start at fullback against Edinburgh. Photograph: Dan Sheridan / Inpho
The Ospreys remarkable capitulation to Zebre on Thursday night means that Munster are guaranteed a place in the semi-finals of the RaboDirect Pro12 but it won’t diminish their desire to try and chase down home advantage for a play-off game.
To fulfil that remit they’re going to have to win their final two matches starting with this tricky trip to Edinburgh, not to the cavernous, soulless mausoleum that Murrayfield had become but to Meggetland, a more intimate setting that should guarantee a better atmosphere.
Munster coach Rob Penney has made 11 changes from the defeat to Toulon in Marseilles so it’s easier to concentrate on the players that remain. Simon Zebo, excellent the last day, switches from wing to fullback, the equally effective Conor Murray is at scrumhalf, Paul O’Connell leads the team in place of Damien Varley while CJ Stander is retained in the backrow.
Five of the team that played in France are on the bench. The experimentation with Denis Hurley at inside centre continues while JJ Hanrahan suffered no ill effects following his 20-minute cameo against Toulon. Andrew Conway looked very sharp on his last appearance in the Munster colours while hopefully Luke O’Dea’s injury-ravaged season is at an end.
Edinburgh captain and scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw is playing his final home game before taking up a contract with English Premiership side Gloucester. The backline is retained en masse from the one that snaffled a couple of bonus points against the Glasgow Warriors.
Injuries mean Izak van der Westhuizen, Sean Cox, Ollie Atkins, Roddy Grant, and Hamish Watson have left the home side a little light in terms of trying to cover the secondrow and backrow with the result that Scottish international number eight cum flanker, Dave Denton, will join Grant Gilchrist in the engine room of the pack.
Edinburgh have less to play for but that only makes Munster’s task marginally easier. The Irish province will be keen both to exorcise the memories of Marseilles, to the extent which they can, and also underline their intent in trying to carve out the best set of circumstances that would facilitate them winning a Robo Direct Pro12 title.
Munster possess the stronger bench and so if the game remains in the balance entering the final quarter that could be a decisive factor in determining the outcome in favour of the visitors.
Munster : S Zebo; G VD Heever, J Murphy, D Hurley, A Conway, JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Cronin, D Casey; J Ryan, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (captain); CJ Stander, T O’Donnell, P Butler. Replacements: D Varley, D Kilcoyne, A Cotter, D Foley, J Coughlan, D Williams, I Keatley, L O’Dea.