RugbyMatch Preview

Munster face tough task to get back on track against Bulls

Graham Rowntree makes six personnel changes and one positional switch to the side beaten by Northampton

URC: Bulls v Munster, Loftus Versfeld, Saturday, 4.05 Irish time – Live on RTÉ and Premier Sports

Munster backs coach Mike Prendergast mentioned how last year’s trip to South Africa was a catalyst in propelling the province to the United Rugby Championship title and would dearly love to replicate the momentum as they face into the first of two matches, against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.

The pain of defeat despite a gutsy display against the Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup, should be assuaged slightly by a few days off in not playing last weekend and the return of a handful of internationals. Peter O’Mahony’s one-year contract extension was another positive outcome.

There are six personnel changes and one positional switch to the side beaten by the Saints a fortnight ago. Calvin Nash, Shane Daly and RG Snyman start having missed out last time due to injury/illness, with Conor Murray, Alex Kendellen and Jack O’Donoghue also coming into the starting team.

Simon Zebo moves to fullback with Nash and Daly starting on either wing. Murray starts at scrumhalf alongside Jack Crowley with Craig Casey on the bench. The frontrow of Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell and Stephen Archer is unchanged while Snyman and captain Tadhg Beirne, rather remarkably, are paired together in the secondrow for the first time.


O’Donoghue makes his first start since New Year’s Day while it is the first match this season, in both Europe and the URC, in which Gavin Coombes does not start at number eight. He is among the replacements, as is John Hodnett, in a six-two split as Alex Kendellen is given a place in the run-on team at openside flanker. Oli Jager returns to the matchday 23 following injury.

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Bulls head coach Jake White has restored a host of Springboks to that starting line-up following his decision to send a second string to Northampton for their Champions Cup quarter-final last weekend, a decision that prompted an EPCR investigation.

Former Ulster number eight Marcell Coetzee is out for the remainder of the season following surgery but otherwise it’s a very strong team. White said: “It is a very interesting situation where we have a 19-year-old lock, 21-year-old flanks and a captain who is only 23.

“It is exciting because we have seen how [Rheinhardt] Ludwig and [Cameron] Hanekom have grown quickly, and we have seen the growth of Elrigh [Louw] over the last couple of years. This is a combination I am looking forward to seeing because it has everything. It has skill, height, pace and it has youth, which comes with energy.”

Munster are well versed with what’s coming. Prendergast said: “We spoke about it as a staff and with the players in terms of having a plan, we have to be clever in how we play in both halves [of the pitch].

“They are incredibly dangerous side, a team that score a lot of tries. Athletically you have to look at them, their power up front and their speed out wide, that is what makes them such a dangerous side. Tactically we have to be very smart in how play, mind the ball when we have it.

“They like to get you into an unstructured game, it allows them with their speed to find mismatches, you see a lot of their tries come from turnovers and loose kicks. They have that ability to put the ball into space and use their speed. When you play at altitude there is no let up.”

It’s a tough ask for Munster even with the returning internationals but they’ll embrace that challenge. The Bulls are 11-point favourites, which underlines the size of the hurdle that faces the visitors. If a win is beyond them, getting something out of the game would be a good effort.

BULLS: W Le Roux; K-L Arendse, C Moodie, D Kriel, S de Klerk; J Goosen, E Papier; G Steenekamp, J Grobbelaar, W Louw; R Vermaak, JF van Heerden; C Hanekom, R Ludwig, E Louw (capt).

Replacements: A van der Merwe, S Matanzima, M Smith, J Swanepoel, M Gumede, Z Burger, C Smith, D Williams.

MUNSTER: S Zebo; C Nash, A Frisch, A Nankivell, S Daly; J Crowley, C Murray; J Loughman, N Scannell, S Archer; RG Snyman, T Beirne (capt); P O’Mahony, A Kendellen, J O’Donoghue.

Replacements: E Clarke, J Wycherley, O Jager, T Ahern, G Coombes, C Casey, J Carbery, J Hodnett.

Referee: A Jones (Wales).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer