Munster coach Tony McGahan has made four changes, one of them positional, for the province’s Magners League opener against Aironi Rugby at Musgrave Park on Saturday (kick-off 7.30pm).
The four changes to the team that beat Gloucester last time out are confined to the pack and in particular to the back five.
Mick O’Driscoll will partner Billy Holland in the second row which means a switch to blindside flank for Donnacha Ryan at the expense of Alan Quinlan, who has been named on the replacements bench.
Niall Ronan, a second half replacement last weekend for Tommy O’Donnell, is retained at openside for the Magners League opener.
Included amongst the replacements for the first time this season are Ireland internationals John Hayes and Marcus Horan.
Denis Leamy will captain Munster from number 8 as he has done for their two pre-season games.
Notably, Saturday’s visit of tournament newcomers Aironi will mark Felix Jones’ first competitive appearance for Munster since injurying his neck against Connacht last December.
Jones will line out at full-back, behind recent signings and league debutants Johne Murphy and Sam Tuitupou who form a new-look centre partnership.
Meanwhile, one Munster player who is brimming with confidence is hooker Damien Varley who enjoyed his first senior tour with Ireland this past summer.
Having made his Test debut as a replacement against Australia, the 27-year-old welcomes the challenge of a new league campaign.
“I have to say I’m very excited about playing one of the Italian sides first up in the Magners League,” he said.
“New teams bring a new dimension, an unexpected aspect. The Italian teams are always physical, they look to dominate up front.
“We played Benetton Treviso in the Heineken Cup so we know what they’re like, but Aironi bring something new and there’s no question it’s an exciting prospect.”
Asked about preparations for the league opener, Varley added: “We’ve seen a little footage from Aironi’s friendlies. Any team you haven’t played is difficult to a certain extent.
“I don’t expect it to be a fully forward-orientated game. They’ll bring a very physical presence up front, they seem to look to dominate at scrum and lineout, so that’s an area we’ll have to address.
“But they look to have a very lively set of backs. Besides that, they’ll have an unexpectedness about them that makes this a tricky but very good opener for us.
“We’re preparing the same way we do for Magners League or Heineken Cup games week in, week out, so I think that’s the best we can do.”
MUNSTER (v Aironi Rugby): Felix Jones; Doug Howlett, Johne Murphy, Sam Tuitupou, Ian Dowling; Paul Warwick, Peter Stringer; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Billy Holland, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Alan Quinlan, Peter O’Mahony, Duncan Williams, Scott Deasy, Danny Barnes.