Munster expect to emerge with a bonus against Zebre
Pro12 points becoming ever more vital as race for Champions Cup places intensifies
Tommy O’Donnell returns to the backrow for Munster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster v Zebre
Thomond Park, Friday, 7.0
Live on TG4
It doesn’t matter whether Munster are smarting from the nature of their defeat against the Cardiff Blues. What’s more relevant in a team that shows nine changes from that game is the impact of returning internationals.
Donnacha Ryan will earn a milestone 100th cap in the red jersey, while Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Tommy O’Donnell are parachuted straight into the team, with Conor Murray and CJ Stander named among the replacements.
The three-quarter line is an amalgam of internationals and young players that have grasped opportunities, particularly centre Rory Scannell, who has impressed with the maturity of his game.
Billy Holland captains the team from secondrow, while Johnny Holland is named at outhalf, where it will be interesting to assess his game-management skills.
Zebre have lost five league matches on the bounce and although they are considerably stronger now, with nine Italian internationals back, they are facing into a really tough night against a team they have never beaten.
Team manager Andrea De Rossi said: “Their [Munster’s] defeat in Cardiff last Saturday will have wounded the team, and at the moment they are out of the playoffs. We expect a very hot environment.”
Munster won’t be accommodating. The home side know they must win tonight. And if they manage a four-try bonus-pointwin, they could potentially overtake Ulster, should Les Kiss’s side lose in Glasgow.
The race for those coveted Champions Cup places is intensifying.
Zebo gets a run at fullback in the absence of Andrew Conway – he’s had a fine season – and overall the home side possesses a cutting edge.
Keith Earls, who had an excellent Six Nations, returns to the outside centre role. Munster coach Anthony Foley can also call upon plenty of quality from the bench. Anything other than a comprehensive victory would be disappointing.
MUNSTER: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, K Earls, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; J Holland, T O’Leary; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; D Ryan, B Holland (capt); D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, J O’Donoghue. Replacements: M Sherry, J Cronin, M Sagario, D Foley, CJ Stander, C Murray, I Keatley, D Johnston.
ZEBRE: K van Zyl; L Sarto, G Bisegni, T Boni, G Toniolatti; K Haimona, G Palazzani; G Roan, O Fabiani, D Chistolini; Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabo; J Cook, F Ruzza, J Meyer. Replacements: B Postiglioni, A de Marchi, P Ceccarelli, G Koegelenberg, E Caffini, L Burgess, U Beyers, M Pratichetti.
Referee: D Phillips (Ireland)