Slighted Munster men won’t be lacking for motivation
Treviso could face a backlash as Munster prepare for showdown with Leinster next week
Simon Zebo and Keith Earls. Earls, now recovered from injury, starts against Treviso while Zebo will be on the bench. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Conor Murray will be reintegrated at scrumhalf come the visit to Dublin next weekend and, hamstring strain permitting, so will their captain Peter O’Mahony but otherwise no Munster group have been this slighted since the days when Gaillimh (Mick Galwey) and Claw (Peter Clohessy) were overlooked by Irish selectors.
The presence of just three Munster players in Joe Schmidt’s championship-winning Ireland squad has them quietly fuming.
Before Tommy O’Donnell got injured the flanker was ousted by Leinster’s Jordi Murphy on the bench for Twickenham. The same O’Donnell who performed so impressively against Canada in the summer.
He was just one of several Leinster reserves fending off a Munster regular. Granted, Keith Earls was injured but Simon Zebo was fit and in form in time for the Six Nations.
Zebo, a Lions call-up last summer, couldn’t get near the squad even when Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe were put on ice. Schmidt instead went for Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble but both wingers repaid the selection with consistently reliable displays.
Zebo is benched by Munster coach Rob Penney tonight as Earls returns and Johne Murphy is preferred on the left wing. That isn’t a domestic slight, however, as Ian Keatley is also held back as JJ Hanrahan starts at 10.
When they go full metal jacket in the Aviva stadium next weekend both men will presumably be starting.
Same looks likely for O’Donnell and James Coughlan who both “trained fully this week,” according to a spokesperson.
That makes it likely that Donnacha Ryan will return to the second row alongside Paul O’Connell. So the backrow may change entirely after tonight unless Sean Dougall, impressive in patches this season, and the fit-again Paddy Butler can force a change of mindset.
Tonight’s frontrow also looks like a second-string version although James Cronin and John Ryan won’t be kept down for long. Their performances either side of the returning Damien Varley will be interesting.
BJ Botha remains an essential cog in the red machine while Stephen Archer has slipped down the Ireland pecking order on Schmidt and John Plumtree’s watch. Same goes for Dave Kilcoyne.
Both were usurped by Leinster understudies. More cement for the grievance grinder. While the presence of O’Connell and Ryan make it seem like a frontline Munster pack, there could be as many as seven positional changes by the time they collide with Leinster’s all-Ireland eight.
Varley, named captain here, will presumably keep Quentin MacDonald at bay for the remainder of the campaign. Cronin might hold onto the number one jersey. There is plenty of Munster dog in the 23 -year-old Cork man. CJ Stander is another who has only shown sparks of undoubted ability. All told, the aforementioned are players who watched the Six Nations like the public. At home.
Tonight is the precursor before next Saturday’s return to ancient hostilities.
With an added spice.
MUNSTER: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams; J Cronin, D Varley (capt), J Ryan; B Holland, P O’Connell; Donnacha Ryan, S Dougall, P Butler. Replacements: Q MacDonald, D Kilcoyne, S Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, G Hurley, I Keatley, S Zebo.
BENETTON TREVISO: A Esposito; C Loamanu, M Campagnaro, A Sgarbi, L Nitoglia; M Berquist, E Gori; A De Marchi, G Maistri, L Cittadini; A Pavanello (capt), V Bernabó; M Vosawai, M Filippucci, R Barbieri. Replacements: L Ghiraldini, M Muccignat, I Fernandez-Rouyet, M Fuser, C Van Zyl, L McLean, T Botes, J Ambrosini.
Referee: L Hodges (WRU).
Verdict: Munster win.