Four players will make their senior debuts for Munster in Sunday’s Setanta Sports Challenge Cup clash with the World Cup-bound US Eagles in Chicago (Toyota Park, kick-off 8.10pm Irish time).
Former Leinster players Kieran Lewis and Niall Ronan has been given the nod to start at inside centre and openside flanker respectively, while much of the focus will fall on the new-look half-back pairing of Gerry Hurley, Garryowen’s AIB League-winning scrum half, and former Connacht ace Paul Warwick.
Munster coach Declan Kidney will also have a look at Mossie Lawler at full-back, while the inclusion of John Kelly, Anthony Horgan, Mick O’Driscoll and Anthony Foley, who will captain the side, will give the visitors an experienced edge.
Second row O’Driscoll, who failed to make Ireland’s World Cup squad, will be making his 100th appearance for the province.
Munster have had a very enjoyable build-up to the match, training at the Fenwick High School, coaching some local children and making a splash in Lake Michigan, where there was much hilarity when hooker Denis Fogarty’s shorts were stolen from him while he was in the water.
The touring party also took time off to attend an Irish Consulate reception and take in a baseball match between the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox at US Cellular Field.
Speaking ahead his squad’s stint Stateside, Kidney said: “I’m very happy with the application shown by everyone – not just this week but in the lead-up to the tour as well. Pre-season has gone well and what better way to open your season than by playing against international opposition.
“It’s going to be a huge game for us. The Eagles will be looking to go away to the World Cup with a win under their belts but I think we’ll give a good account of ourselves. I know we’re all looking forward to it.”
USA coach Peter Thorburn has selected a strong-looking line-up which includes a number of players who has experience of playing professionally in England and Wales – Paul Emerick (Dragons), Mike Hercus (Llanelli and Sale), Luke Gross (Doncaster), Chris Wyles (Northampton) and Mick McDonald (Leeds).
Thorburn said at the pre-match press conference: “This is a very important game for us. It will be seen by a lot of American people for the first time. It’s important that the game on Sunday has a quality about it.
“It’s the way the game should be played because Americans love physicality in their sports. And I could see people getting converted very quickly when they see rugby,” he explained.
“I think we’ve prepared as well as we can for the World Cup considering the limitations we have in US rugby, with people having to work for a living the diversity of the rugby population.
“We think we have the best group that we can put together and to take on a professional side such as Munster at this point is really hugely beneficial for us.”
One man who Munster supporters are itching to see in action soon is New Zealander Rua Tipoki, who is resting a hamstring injury and Kidney is hopeful that his new centre will play in Munster’s September 7 friendly against Saracens.
Sunday’s game in the Windy City will see the sides compete for the Setanta Sports Challenge Cup, with live coverage of the fixture on Setanta Sports Ireland.
USA EAGLES: Chris Wyles; Salesi Sika, Paul Emerick, Vaha Esikia, Takudzwa Ngwenya; Mike Hercus (capt), Chad Erskine; Mike MacDonald, Blake Burdette, Chris Osentowski, Luke Gross, Mike Mangan, Louis Stanfill, Todd Clever, Henry Bloomfield.
Replacements: to be confirmed.
MUNSTER: Mossie Lawler; John Kelly, Lifeimi Mafi, Kieran Lewis, Anthony Horgan; Paul Warwick, Jerry Hurley; Federico Pucciariello, Denis Fogarty, Tony Buckley, Donnacha Ryan, Mick O’Driscoll, John O’Sullivan, Niall Ronan, Anthony Foley (capt).
Replacements (from): Darragh Hurley, Tim Ryan, Michael Essex, Mark Melbourne, Tomas O’Leary, Jeremy Manning, Tom Gleeson, Denis Hurley, Ciaran O’Boyle.
Referee: Andrew Small (England)