Ryan’s return boosts Munster prospects in potential five-pointer
Southerners well placed to secure lucrative and advantageous home semi-final
Donnacha Ryan making his first Munster start since March 2014. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
As significant as this match is in Munster’s quest for a home semi-final, and indeed Treviso’s battle with Zebre for a place in next season’s Champions Cup is the sight of Donnacha Ryan making his first start since March 2014.
All things being equal, the 31-year-old lock would assuredly make the cut for Ireland’s 31-man World Cup squad, but in the absence of a summer tour, a strong end to both Munster’s and his season would help his cause no end.
Ironically, Ryan has been sidelined since the 14-3 win over Treviso at Thomond Park 13 months ago due to a toe injury that threatened to end his career and has confined him to just two appearances off the bench in the last couple of months.
Ryan completed his first 80 minutes when lining out for Munster A against the Ulster Ravens last week and Anthony Foley is thus able to start Ryan for the first time, in place of Paul O’Connell.
Stephen Archer is restored at tight head and academy centre Rory Scannell partners Andrew Smith in midfield in the only changes from the side that beat Edinburgh 34-3 away last time out.
That win enabled Foley’s side to lead Ulster going into the third-last weekend on points difference, ahead of their meeting in Belfast two weeks’ hence, and with the Dragons at home in their final game they are well placed to secure a lucrative and advantageous home semi-final.
Their maul was their primary source of joy that night, leading to the first three of their five tries. Were Munster to dip their bread here it could prove hugely significant in the final shake-up given they already boast the best points difference in the table.
Umberto Casellato retains faith in the same starting XV which lost 33-13 at home to the Ospreys last time out, with two changes on the bench.