Munster mix it up for opener
Munster's task at the Madejski Stadium in Reading this evening seems to have become bigger and bigger in recent days.
Following last week's defeat by Leinster, coupled with Lifeimi Mafi's suspension and Tomás O'Leary's injury, Tony McGahan's selection for the London Irish tie is bold.
Marcus Horan and John Hayes lose out to Wian du Preez and the recalled Tony Buckley, but not only has David Wallace again been confined to bench duty, Alan Quinlan has been omitted from the 23-man squad altogether as James Coughlan is recalled at number eight for only his second Munster start of the season. Denis Leamy has also been moved to blindside.
Throw in the sidelined Paul O'Connell and Jerry Flannery and Munster will start without six of the long-established juggernauts, who have a phenomenal 408 Heineken Cup appearances between them.
While Munster can call on the vast experience of Peter Stringer to replace O'Leary, the latter's physicality around the fringes, kicking game and defensive covering will be missed, but McGahan hasn't stopped tearing up the script with the pack.
By stark contrast, London Irish come into this game confident, at home, virtually at full-strength, with just three rotational changes to their starting line-up from last week.
They have rediscovered their mojo, with their highly influential wingers Topsey Ojo and Sailosi Tagicakibau back in harness and scoring freely. Indeed, they and young back-up winger JJ Jospeh have scored 10 of their 17 tries in five games to date.
History is against Munster this evening. Since their first venture into European competition 15 years ago, they have travelled to England for their opening pool match six times and have returned home vanquished on five of those occasions -- the most recent being last year's loss in Northampton.
The solitary victory came against Leicester at Welford Road in 2006/07, the day of Donncha O'Callaghan's 50-yard dash and Ronan O'Gara's wonder penalty from inside his own half on the stroke of full-time.
The record books also demonstrate that a losing bonus point in these fixtures can be sufficient reward in terms of getting out of the pool -- early days and all that -- and the general consensus is that Munster keeping the Exiles to within seven points would represent a good day at the office.
LONDON IRISH: D Armitage; T Ojo, E Seveali'i, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; R Lamb, P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt), J Buckland, F Rautenbach; N Kennedy, B Casey; K Roche, D Danaher, G Stowers. Reps: D Paice, M Lahiff, A Corbisiero, M Garvey, C Hala'ufia, J Joseph, D Bowden, D Allinson.
MUNSTER: J Murphy; D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, D Hurley; R O'Gara, P Stringer; W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; D Leamy (capt), N Ronan, J Coughlan. Reps: M Sherry, M Horan, J Hayes, M O'Driscoll, D Wallace, D Williams, P Warwick, S Deasy.
LONDON IRISH v MUNSTER SKY SPORTS 1 (KO 5.45)