Weakened Munster happy to do some talking on the pitch
Egos need mending and they take the field tonight with all but one current international
Andrew Smith will make his debut against Edinburgh tonight. Photograph: Stefan Postles/Getty Images
Munster v Edinburgh
Thomond Park, 7.35 - Live TG4
Here follows the seasonal opener of the most important Pro 12 campaign to date but Munster remain some way shy of a full strength starting XV.
So we’ve been told. In the worst way possible. Tonight provides them with a much needed chance to blanket the unfortunate events of the past nine days, when a document containing personal notes on individual players was accidentally emailed to the entire squad.
Some of it filtered into the public domain. In reaction, the noises coming from new head coach Anthony Foley were typically staunch. This blast of negativity can be weathered, he said, with the result being a stronger collective moving forward. Really though, it’s a needless mess in early September.
Egos need mending and they take the field tonight with all but one current international. Paul O’Connell and the other Argentina tourists are embroiled in pre-season conditioning – or recovery in the case of Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan – so Foley digs into the third and fourth tier of his group.
Andrew Conway is on the right wing but Ivan Dineen and Cathal Sheridan must be content with places among the replacements. Big seasons must follow for them all.
Ian Keatley retains the number 10 jersey with JJ Hanrahan to eventually increase the pressure there. Just not yet.
There is also the interesting use of John Ryan at loosehead prop in the absence of Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin but it is hooker where Munster have a genuine lack of depth. With Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Niall Scannell all injured and Eusebio Guinazu awaiting a work permit (the Argentine is expected in Limerick before October), Kevin O’Byrne is promoted from UL Bohemians for his debut with Duncan Casey held in reserve.
Number eight Shane Buckley – voted academy player of the year – and Smith also make their first competitive start for the province. Smith, 30 in January, was recruited instead of Jimmy Downey, who joined Glasgow Warriors, and Casey Laulala, who was stolen away by Racing Metro.
“I expect them to be massively physical, hard at the breakdown and strong up front – a typical Munster team,” said Sean Kennedy, Edinburgh’s Limerick born and raised scrumhalf. “They’ve got a new coaching staff this year, so maybe their style will have changed slightly.”
This can be taken as read. It won’t be so much a return to the Munster way, just not a slavish beating of the Canterbury drum. The natives have claimed back the land. Foley’s coaching ticket is pure home-grown.
Smith, it is anticipated, will evolve the Munster attack while maintaining the physicality of Downey but he adds impressive hands in traffic. Ideally, in time, he will shift to 13 with Denis Hurley or even Tyler Bleydanaal running inside him.
Not much will be learned tonight. Edinburgh are unlikely to differ greatly from the poor team we have witnessed in recent times. Munster’s machine is missing far too many key components to run smoothly.
But victory, with Keatley’s direction ensuring a few scores to spare, seems a safe enough prediction.