herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Van the new Man set for Thomond bow

Munster’s Johann van Graan. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster’s Johann van Graan. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Munster will have all the reason in the world to put The Ospreys to the sword in Conference A of the PRO14 League at Thomond Park this evening (KO5.30, Sky Sports Action).

It will be new coach Johann van Graan's first home match in charge, the South African saying all the right things in the lead-up.

All his players have to do is follow his lead by doing most of the right things against the lowly Welsh club, languishing bottom of the Conference.

Out-half Ian Keatley and tight-head John Ryan return from Ireland duty with Simon Zebo, Darren Sweetnam and their top try-scorer Alex Wootton making up the back three.

New signing Pita Ahki will make his first Connacht start against an improved Zebre at Stadio Lanfranchi this afternoon (KO1.15 Irish time, TG4).

The half-backs Kieran Marmion and Steve Crosbie will have to learn on the fly in behind a pack of forwards that will have to take a mean attitude into the trenches.

The Western Province will use the character they showed to take losing bonus-points away from Cardiff Blues last week. "It is really important to do well against teams in our conference," said coach Kieran Keane.

"They (Zebre) have made it difficult against teams this season particularly at home.

"We will need to be at our best to beat them."

The Italians welcome back no fewer than nine internationals, led by their captain George Biagi.

Their resolute from this season cannot be overlooked or Connacht could be in for the sort of rude awakening they may not wake up from.

Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, A Wootton; I Keatley, J Hart; L O'Connor, R Marshall, J Ryan, J Kleyn, B Holland (capt), J O'Donoghue, C Cloete, R Copeland.

Ospreys: D Evans; H Dirksen, K Fonotia, J Hook, J Hassler; S Davies, T Habberfield; G Thomas, S Parry, D Arhip, L Ashely, B Davies (capt), O Cracknell, W Jones, J King.

Verdict: Munster.

Zebre: M Minozzi; M Bellini, G Bisegni, T Boni, G Venditti; C Canna, M violi; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, D Chistolini, L Krumov, G Biagi (capt), M Mbanda, J Meyer, R Giammarioli.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, P Ahki, T Farrell, M Healy; S Crosbie, K Marmion; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham, U Dillane, J Cannon, E Masterson, J Connolly, J Muldoon (capt).

Verdict: Connacht.

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