herald

Friday 18 January 2019

O'Connell back to lead Munster to maximum points

MUNSTER v ZEBRE

Thomond Park, Tonight 7.30

THIS should be like shooting fish in a barrel for Munster. Should be.

Treviso facilitated the start of Anthony Foley's recovery from that aching loss to Edinburgh by not living up to their standards at home and the other Italian club looks like the perfect opportunity to rack up five points for the first time.

Zebre have not beaten an Irish province in 21 attempts and Munster have taken maximum points from three out of these four fixtures. Moreover, Munster will have second row Paul O'Connell back to lead from the front as he puts his game-management to proper use on the field of play for the first time this season.

PROMOTION

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray will also make his first appearances of the season inside the notable promotion of Johnny Holland for his first start to go with his signature to a senior development contract.

In addition, prop Dave Kilcoyne, loose-forward Paddy Butler, centre Denis Hurley and fly-half JJ Hanrahan also return to the fold with only Butler and Hurley starting tonight.

Coach Foley gives his stamp of selection approval to Holland, right wing Ronan O'Mahony, lock Billy Holland and flanker Tommy O'Donnell, who lost his way last season after a stunning 2012/2013.

This could also provide the breakout chance for Wexford's Robin Copeland to show what he can do with ball-in-hand as Munster will expect to find the front-foot with BJ Botha back at tight-head.

The Southern province have made nothing more than a reasonable start to the season. But, these are early days in the reign of Foley.

It looks like he will take the merits of his predecessor Rob Penney and marry them with some of the more traditional aspects of Munster rugby.

Verdict: Munster

Munster: F Jones (capt); R O'Mahony, A Smith, D Hurley, S Zebo; J Holland, C Murray; J Cronin, D Casey, BJ Botha, B Holland, P O'Connell, P Butler, T O'Donnell, R Copeland.

Zebre: H Deniller; D Odiete, G Bisegni, K Haimona, G Toniolatti; E Padovani, G Palazanni; A Lovotti, A Manici, L Leibson, Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi, M Bergamasco, F Cristiano, S Vunisa.

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