Depleted Zebre should find it tough to stymie Munster

Anthony Foley mixed youth with experience as Munster’s fortunes improve

Guninness Pro12 League

Zebre v Munster

Stadio Lanfranchi, Saturday, 2.0pm

TG4

Former Cork intercounty hurler, schools hockey international and Ireland under-20 rugby international Darren Sweetnam will make his first competitive start for Munster in the Guinness Pro12.

The ex-Bandon Grammar pupil, who hails from Dunmanway, will start in a team that shows eight changes from the team that beat Benetton Treviso in the Champions Cup last weekend.

Loosehead prop James Cronin has been released from the Ireland squad to get some needed game time after a recent injury in a pack that boasts a nice mixture of youth and experience.

Billy Holland, who signed a two-year contract extension with the province this week, is given the honour of leading the team.

Tomas O'Leary will partner Ian Keatley at halfback while coach Anthony Foley will have been pleased with the continuing maturation in performance terms of centre Rory Scannell and left wing Ronan O'Mahony, both of whom have been impressive of late.

Zebre have managed four victories so far this season but will be hugely handicapped for this match in losing 13 players to the Italian national squad and a couple of others to injury. The return of wing Michele Visentin is a tiny sliver lining in what has been a tough week for coach Gianluca Guidi.

New Zealand-born Italian international Kelly Haimona missed the Rugby World Cup through injury but was included in Jacque Brunel's Six Nations squad.

He plays outhalf in this game although the suggestion is that he may line out at centre for the national side.

Trickier assignment

Zebre team manager Andrea de Rossi admitted: “We need another test of character to deal with Munster: an experienced team and the runners-up of last season’s Pro12 that knows how to win games without dominating possession.”

It could potentially have been a trickier assignment if Zebre were less encumbered by loss of players but Munster should win this one and will be targeting a bonus point to boot, something they have managed on five of six occasions in the past.

ZEBRE: K van Zyl; D Berryman, T Boni, M Pratichetti, M Visentin; K Haimona, L Burgess; A de Marchi, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; G Koegelenberg, M Bortalami; E Caffini, J Mayer, J Cook. Replacements: E Coria, B Postiglioni, G Roan, F Ruzza, F Cristiano, G Toniolatti, M Muliaina, U Beyers.

MUNSTER: A Conway; D Sweetnam, F Saili, R Scannell, R O'Mahony; I Keatley, T O'Leary, J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Foley, M Chisholm; B Holland, J O'Donoghue, R Copeland. Replacements: M Sherry, D Kilcoyne, M Sagaro, D O'Callaghan, S Buckley, D Williams, C Bohane, G van den Heever.

Referee: D Phillips (IRFU).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer

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