Ireland front rowers Marcus Horan and John Hayes have been named in Munster’s extended squad for their opening Magners League game against Aironi Rugby at Musgrave Park on Saturday (kick-off 7.30pm).
Tony McGahan’s 27-man panel includes recent signings Johne Murphy and Sam Tuitupou who formed a centre partnership in last week’s pre-season win over Gloucester.
Fit-again full-back Felix Jones is also pushing for selection, while in the forwards, prop Wian du Preez, who scored a try against Gloucester, is poised to make his first Magners League appearance since last January.
With hooker Damien Varley getting capped on Ireland’s recent summer tour, the Munster management have five Ireland front rowers at their disposal for the visit of Aironi Rugby, with the returning Marcus Horan and John Hayes adding to the province’s options.
Young lock Ian Nagle is hoping to force his way into the matchday 22, giving himself a shot at a home competitive debut. His one cap came last March as a late replacement against the Newport Gwent Dragons.
The fit-again Denis Leamy will also be itching to play this weekend after two successful run-outs in pre-season as Munster’s stand-in captain.
Looking forward to the game against the Italian newcomers, McGahan said: “We don’t know a lot about them, but we’re certain they’ll be coming here to make a really strong statement about their approach to the Magners League.
“They’ve recruited well, brought in a lot of experienced players. There’s probably not a lot of pressure on them to get a result, but Munster away first up, they’ve nothing to lose.
“They can make a really strong statement to the rest of the opposition where they’re going to be for this season.”
As a newly formed franchise, McGahan will not have had much if any video footage of the Italians to mull over, although he will know one of their players very well – ex-Munster back rower Nick Williams.
“We’ve seen footage of their game last week – against Northampton – but really our focus at this stage has to be on ourselves and what we’re going to bring.
“That’s the most important thing for us going into every game but more importantly at this stage of the season.
“We need to understand ourselves and how we’re progressing before we can worry about what the opposition is going to throw at us,” he added.
MUNSTER Squad (v Aironi Rugby) – Backs (11): Denis Hurley, Felix Jones, Danny Barnes, Doug Howlett, Sam Tuitupou, Johne Murphy, Ian Dowling, Paul Warwick, Scott Deasy, Duncan Williams, Peter Stringer.
Forwards (16): Wian du Preez, Dave Ryan, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Tony Buckley, Denis Fogarty, Damien Varley, Mick O’Driscoll, Ian Nagle, Billy Holland, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Alan Quinlan, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, Denis Leamy.