Confident Munster primed for successful Italian job

Opportune time to be visiting Treviso as Benetton without the services of their Italian international contingent

Benetton v Munster

Stadio Comunale di Monigo (2.30, live on TG4, URC TV)

Despite the absence of their Irish internationals, Munster head coach Graham Rowntree has named a strong team that includes a handful of players who have been in excellent form of late.

Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch and Malakai Fekitoa, an early replacement for the injured Mike Haley, all produced high-quality contributions in the narrow Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse while Liam Coombes is restored to the backline, his last involvement in Munster colours included a brilliant solo try against the Lions.


The match, his 50th for the province, represents a first opportunity for Joey Carbery to challenge Andy Farrell’s decision to leave him out of the Ireland squad. Alongside Paddy Patterson, another player performing admirably, the halfback pairing will look to provide intelligent game management and variety to Munster’s attacking patterns.

Hooker Niall Scannell will captain the team in the absence of Peter O’Mahony (Ireland duty) and Jack O’Donoghue (suspension), while for props Josh Wycherley and Roman Salanoa, managing to achieve set piece solidity is generally a notable plus point against an Italian scrum.

Fineen Wycherley returns for his first game in four months following shoulder surgery. John Hodnett has produced a string of first-class performances and is joined in the back row by Jack O’Sullivan and Alex Kendellen.

Former underage international and second year academy prop Mark Donnelly makes his first appearance of the season, while the presence of 19-year-old Ruadhán Quinn is slightly surprising given that he is expected to start Ireland’s opening game in the Under-20 Six Nations Championship at Colwyn Bay next Friday.

There is plenty of backline experience on the bench in the form of Neil Cronin, Ben Healy, who returns from training with Scotland, and Rory Scannell. Munster’s only defeat in their last five league matches was a narrow one to Leinster.

Benetton are missing their Italian international contingent so there is little doubt that it is an opportune time to be visiting Treviso, a venue in which the hosts have lost only one of their last nine home games in the URC. The clubs are separated by a single point in the table underlining the obvious importance of the encounter.

It is over nine years (September 2013) since Munster last lost to Benetton and they have only suffered three losses to the Italians in 20 matches. It certainly doesn’t mean that it will be easy for the Irish province, but the momentum and confidence generated by recent performances, underpinned by resilience, grit and the form of the individual players, makes them understandable favourites (nine points).

Benetton: R Smith; I Mendy, M Zanon, F Drago, M Bellini; J Umaga, D Duvenage; N Tetaz, S Maile, T Pasquali; M Lazzaroni, R Favretto; G Pettinelli, A Izekor, H Time-Stowers. Replacements: B Bernasconi, T Gallo, F Alongi, N Piantella, C Wegner, B Steyn, M Albanese, M Watson.

Munster: S Daly; C Nash, A Frisch, M Fekitoa, L Coombes; J Carbery, P Patterson; J Wycherley, N Scannell (capt), R Salanoa; J Kleyn, F Wycherley; J O’Sullivan, J Hodnett, A Kendellen. Replacements: D Barron, M Donnelly, S Archer, C Hurley, R Quinn, N Cronin, B Healy, R Scannell.

Referee: B Blain (Scotland)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer