Munster have quality everywhere as they face down Edinburgh

Home side bolstered by returning internationals while visitors are missing theirs

Munster’s Conor Murray: he came on from the bench last week against Zebra. Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho

Munster’s Conor Murray: he came on from the bench last week against Zebra. Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho

 

Munster v Edinburgh, Musgrave Park (eir sport, Friday, 7.35pm)

It is difficult not to find quality wherever you look in coach Johann van Graan’s selection. Seven players are back, no doubt with Joe Schmidt’s homework and detailed instructions for improvement still ringing in their ears.

Scrumhalf Conor Murray and centre Chris Farrell will start for the first time following long injury lay-offs after both had runs from the bench last week against Zebre with no adverse reaction.

Bad timing for November obviously, but good timing for the pair with the home and away legs of Castres Olympique in the European Champions Cup coming up on short order. Also, it’s two months before Ireland’s first Six Nations match against England on February 2nd.

Both can set targets there, with Farrell joining the cluttered centre and the sparring team of Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki and currently hamstrung Robbie Henshaw. There will be blood on the floor there.

Farrell produced a man-of-the-match performance in February’s Six Nations game with Wales, but injured his knee in training and missed a heck of a lot.

Prior to last week Murray’s last competitive action came during Ireland’s successful summer tour of Australia. His neck mended, he partners JJ Hanrahan.

With Keith Earls also sharing a back line with Andrew Conway and Rory Scannell, Munster have plenty of go-forward bite. Conway’s wheels will still be spinning from his three tries against the USA. He wants to be noticed by Schmidt. He was.

Back line

The backline should keep Edinburgh guessing all over, and then there’s the Munster pack led by the peerless Peter O’Mahony. Completing the abrasive backrow trio, Chris Cloete and Arno Botha keep their places.

The engine room is Billy Holland and Tadhg Beirne, Beirne back from a US try and more eye-catching action in the green jersey with Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan, an Irish frontrow also in a sweet mood after a sweet November.

Munster have 11 changes from last week, with Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill making nine. In that arithmetic Munster come out on top in number and in quality.

Edinburgh are playing their second away match in five days, arriving back from Wales in the early hours of Monday with a losing bonus point from Dragons.

To that demanding weekly configuration – and Edinburgh having not yet won away from home this season – Cockerill, somewhat philosophically, says he is looking at the “bigger picture”.

Breaking that code he means Edinburgh are travelling with a weak team to a place they should not really be travelling to with a weak team.

Best players

“The international boys will be away this week having some rest, so that’s 10 of our best players,” said the former England hooker. “We’ve got a few guys that have injury issues, so we’ve pretty much got the same squad that we had at Dragons – minus Ben Toolis. This weekend’s match is not really about seeking redemption following last season’s defeat at Thomond Park.”

Looking at the home team sheet, the resting CJ Stander’s missing name will not allay Cockerill’s fears. This is a strong Munster side orientating towards next week and expecting a win to keep forward momentum flowing.

MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; T Beirne, B Holland; P O’Mahony (C), C Cloete, A Botha. Replacements: K O’Byrne, J Loughman, C Parker, F Wycherley, G Coombes, D Williams, T Bleyendaal, S Arnold.

EDINBURGH: D Fife; T Brown, G Taylor, J Socino, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, N Fowles; R Sutherland, D Cherry, M McCallum, J Hodgson, C Hunter-Hill, Ally Miller, L Wynne, L Hamilton (C). Replacements: R Ford , D Marfo, P Ceccarelli, C Atkinson, S Nayalo, S Kennedy, Jason Baggott, C Dean.

Referee: N Owens (WRU).

Verdict: Munster.

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