Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has named his side for Munster’s Guinness PRO14 opener against Benetton Rugby under Friday Night Lights at Irish Independent Park, Cork tomorrow night – ko 7.35pm.
Just two changes are made to the side that defeated Worcester Warriors in preseason action last week, academy flanker Sean O’Connor coming into the back row to make his first PRO14 appearance and returning international Andrew Conway joining the back-three at full back.
Retaining his starting spot after an impressive showing in preseason, loosehead Liam O’Connor is the second academy player to make his first start and packs down alongside Rhys Marshall and Stephen Archer.
The addition of O’Connor to the back row sees Billy Holland revert to the tight five and is partnered by Jean Kleyn in the second row. The South African has successfully rehabbed the neck injury that saw him miss the end of last season.
Openside Tommy O’Donnell, who has now completed return-to-play protocols, and number 8 Jack O’Donoghue complete the pack.
Netting a brace in Worcester, Duncan Williams continues at half back alongside captain Tyler Bleyendaal, while Chris Farrell makes his competitive debut for the province in partnering Jaco Taute in midfield.
Wingers Alex Wootton and Darren Sweetnam join Conway in the back-three, the latter drawing ever closer to 100 PRO14 appearances and will play in the competition for the 98th time tomorrow night.
Named on the bench, long term injury returnee Mike Sherry could play his first competitive game since May 2016, with James Hart and Ciaran Parker in line for PRO14 debuts.
Robin Copeland overcomes a shoulder injury in timely fashion for the new season and also takes his place on the bench.
Munster: Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell, Jaco Taute, Alex Wootton; Tyler Bleyendaal – capt., Duncan Williams; Liam O’Connor, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Sean O’Connor, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Brian Scott, Ciaran Parker, Fineen Wycherley, Robin Copeland, James Hart, Ian Keatley, Dan Goggin.
Player Injury Update
Following a scan for the ankle knock he sustained in Worcester, Gerbrandt Grobler will meet with a specialist next week, Conor Oliver undergoes shoulder surgery this week and is expected to be sidelined until the new year, while James Cronin underwent a knee scope and will be unavailable for the opening rounds of the season.
After training in UL this week, MunsterRugby.ie caught up with Billy Holland to get his thoughts on Friday night’s game and the season ahead.
Friday Night Lights
With both players and the team looking to lay down marker for the season ahead, start this weekend by cheering on Munster ‘under lights’ at Irish Independent Park.
Munster v Benetton Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Round 1, Friday September 1st, ko 7.35pm.
Tickets – Junior €7, Adult €20, Family €40 – can be purchased online here, or at the ground on the night.