Depleted Munster squad face daunting task in Thomond Park
Maori All Blacks are effectively shadow New Zealand squad but still contain big threats
James Lowe of the Maori All Blacks runs in for a try in their victory over the USA Eagles. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images
Munster v Maori All Blacks, Thomond Park, Friday, 7.30pm (Live Eir Sport)
Munster already find themselves in the midst of an unbelievably draining campaign, but they scale this vertical peak in the face of Joe Schmidt naming seven of their players in the Ireland squad to face Canada.
Absent leaders: no Peter O’Mahony – so confrontational in previous battles against touring sides – or Keith Earls, no Jack O’Donoghue, Billy Holland or Donnacha Ryan. Furthermore, Simon Zebo, CJ Stander and Conor Murray are all on ice.
It gets worse with Schmidt putting Dave Kilcoyne and John Ryan on the Ireland bench as this almost bare frontrow cupboard leaves Rassie Erasmus scrabbling about for crumbs. Big night for James Cronin, Niall Scannell and Stephen Archer then.
Not that Erasmus can be accused of prioritising this game. It’s way down the pecking order of seasonal goals, the proof being that Tyler Bleyendaal is nowhere to be seen.
So forget about another Munster haka. Which is a shame.
Bleyendaal has become central to the majority of Munster points this season, but Ian Keatley steps back into the 10 jersey.
Nor is Jean Kleyn or Francis Saili back on deck yet. When Munster rattled the actual All Blacks in 2008 and beat Australia in 2010, contributions from foreign players such as Doug Howlett, Rua Tipoki and Paul Warwick were essential.
Five academy players have been promoted for this match. New, yet temporary scrumhalf signing Te Aihe Toma is due off the bench, while Sean O’Connor was part of the Ireland side that defeated New Zealand at this year’s Junior World Cup.
All told, the lack of front-liners damages the fixture – not unlike the USA fielding a second string side before being obliterated by the Maori All Blacks in Chicago seven days ago.
This is effectively a shadow New Zealand squad as Steve Hansen is using it to run players who he can then promote in the event of injuries.
At least Damian McKenzie and Rieko Ioane have been recalled to the first team to face Italy.
Munster still must cope with their older brothers, Marty McKenzie at fullback and Akira Ioane at number eight.
Matt Proctor is a slippery customer at outside centre who needs constant minding, while Reed Prinsep might well be the next athletic monstrosity on the New Zealand blindside. James Lowe is a powerful and prolific winger for the Chiefs. They have weapons everywhere.
So Munster have no chance, not a hope. History will not mind them either – not the 3-3 draw with New Zealand in 1973, not the scalping of 1978. Not their magical silence. Not the full house.
It is going to rain tonight. Spotty showers.
“It’s a real dockyard brawl,” said Grant Nisbett, the resident Kiwi commentator, just before Joe Rokocoko slipped past Howlett for the heart-breaker try eight years ago.
Everyone knows what is needed.
There was sparse comment from the Maori camp beforehand as restrictions were placed upon the media at the Tana Umaga press conference. There were only questions about the job at hand. Not that we would have mentioned spearing Brian O’Driscoll or the fact he interviewed for the Munster job that went to Rob Penney or even last week’s game in Chicago. Anyway, a few national media outlets didn’t even bother showing up.
“Munster are a great side and have a very very strong setpiece so we will try and combat that with a couple of plans we got in store,” said Maori forwards coach Carl Hoeft. “I’ve been here before with a French side. They get a lot of energy from the crowd. Different team playing at home. It is a great experience.”
No surprises then.
This fixture in the past has drawn performances and resistance out of the least expected players. Overlooked by Ireland, Tommy O’Donnell leads them out. Cronin or Jaco Taute could have worked on the docks in a past life.
We will have to wait and see but it will take unseen forces to drag these Maoris into a game they would prefer to avoid.
Another miracle needed.
MUNSTER: A Conway; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin, N Scannell, S Archer; J Madigan, D O’Shea; T O’Donnell (capt), C Oliver, R Copeland.
Replacements: R Marshall, P McCabe, B Scott, S O’Connor, J Foley, Te Aihe Toma, D Goggin, A Wootton.
MAORI ALL BLACKS: M McKenzie; A Curtis, M Proctor, T Bateman, J Lowe; O Black, B Guyton; K Hames, A Dixon (capt), B May; L Price, T Franklin; R Prinsep, S Christie, A Ioane.
Replacements: L Apisai, C Eves, M Renata, W Douglas, K Pryor, B Webster, I West, J Emery.