There are no real surprises in Rob Penney’s first competitive selection as Munster head coach, with the squad to play Edinburgh including three summer signings – Casey Laulala, James Downey and Sean Dougall – and Ireland international duo Donncha O’Callaghan and Mike Sherry.
Besides the three newcomers the only uncapped player in the selected squad is replacement back rower Barry O’Mahony, while Doug Howlett leads the side for the first time competitively in his new role as Munster squad captain.
James Downey and Casey Laulala form the centre pairing and after an impressive debut season in which he scored four tries, the promising Luke O’Dea is named on the left wing.
Up front there is a strong spine to the chosen pack, with Ireland international Damien Varley being supported by the South African pair Wian du Preez and BJ Botha in the front row.
Donncha O’Callaghan is partnered by the hard-working Billy Holland in the second row, and debutant flanker Sean Dougall gets the nod in a back row of youth and experience completed by Paddy Butler and the ever dependable James Coughlan at number 8.
O’Callaghan is the only player involved in Ireland’s summer tour to New Zealand to get a starting berth for Munster’s opening league match at Murrayfield on Saturday (kick-off 8pm).
The big Corkman, who played for 64 minutes during the series against the All Blacks, returns to action ahead of his international colleagues and is keen to make up for that heavy defeat to the Ospreys in last season’s RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final.
“Yeah, the Rabo semi-final against the Ospreys over there. That was awful, it really was. We left ourselves down. And that’s not something we’re proud of when it happens,” he admitted.
“It’s hard to explain performances like that, say when you compare it to the game against Northampton in Milton Keynes.
“We know that when we’re focused and when we’re on our game, we’re capable of delivering. And when we’re not we can make ourselves look awful ordinary.”
With a new head coach on board and fresh faces in the dressing room, O’Callaghan is undoubtedly excited by the potential of the new-look side.
But he also knows the onus will be on him to lead by example as a senior player, particularly with the number of internationals still absent and the players who have either retired or moved on since last season.
“When you think about it it’s just over three months since that game (against the Ospreys) and there hasn’t been that big a change in players. Mick O’Driscoll, Fogs (Denis Fogarty), Mafs (Lifeimi Mafi) and Tomas (O’Leary) are the four who are gone since then.
“So we have to be mindful that those of us who were there at the Liberty Stadium are still around and like I said we have to have our heads right or that sort of thing can happen again. And we can’t look beyond ourselves to make sure it doesn’t.
“Those of us who have been around this long need to set an example. Everyone who throws on a jersey has to front up but there has to be leadership and that comes with experience and there’s plenty of that in the squad.”
O’Callaghan added: “We’ve been prepared well. There’s no excuses on that score. But there’s been a big clear-out too. I’ve been sharing a dressing room with (John) Hayes, Fla (Jerry Flannery), (Denis) Leamy, Quinny (Alan Quinlan), Wally (David Wallace), Micko all my career, since Under-21.
“Then there was Tomas and Fogs and Mafs there too. When you think about it, that’s some talent. So it’s going to be odd to be there without them. You’re almost looking at the door, expecting them to come in.
“So yes there have been huge changes and I hope people realise that. When I came into the side we were evolving and there were days like we had against the Ospreys. And we learnt and we came good.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do it again. We have the young lads coming through. It won’t happen overnight. But I’ve no doubt it will happen.”
MUNSTER (v Edinburgh): Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett (capt), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Luke O’Dea; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Marcus Horan, Stephen Archer, David Foley, Barry O’Mahony, Peter Stringer, Scott Deasy, Ivan Dineen.