Munster ‘A’ are aiming to lift the British & Irish Cup for the first time since 2012 when they host Jersey Reds, the fifth-placed finishers in the English Championship, at Irish Independent Park on Friday night (kick-off 7.30pm).
BRITISH & IRISH CUP FINAL: Friday, April 21
MUNSTER ‘A’ v JERSEY REDS, Irish Independent Park, 7.30pm
Team News: Munster ‘A’ head coach Peter Malone has made two changes for Friday’s eagerly-awaited British and Irish Cup final against Jersey Reds in Cork.
The first change is seen in the back row with Munster Academy flanker Gavin Coombes starting on the blindside for the first time, while fellow Academy member Stephen Fitzgerald, who also returns to the starting XV, taking charge at full-back.
An injury to his brother Bill (fractured fibula) sees David Johnston revert to the number 10 jersey with the versatile play-maker now having started for Munster ‘A’ at out-half, centre and full-back this season. Johnston and Academy prop Brian Scott are the only two players to start every game of the current campaign.
Robin Copeland, who will start at number 8, told MunsterRugby.ie: “Training has been good, it’s great to have both squads (the seniors and the ‘A’ side) fighting for something at the weekend. There’s been that little bit of extra bite.
“To be able to train against European semi-finalists has been nice, it’s great preparation and everyone is looking forward to the game. It’s going to be a really tough test (against Jersey) but training has been going well and wee’re looking forward to it.
“I think we just took our chances (in the semi-final against Ealing) and we were really clinical. Our defence was phenomenal, we really fought for every inch. I think it’s going to be much of the same this weekend against a big team.
“We’ve got quality players throughout the ranks and I think that’s probably been the strength of Munster this year is how durable we are. We train very hard during the week and I think that gives us that extra bit of durability and edge at the week.
“That’s a massive factor in everything at Munster this year. We’re able to not only put out strong teams at the weekend, we’re training with strong teams during the week. Our senior team is training against a really good ‘A’ side every week.”
Commenting on first-time finalists Jersey, he added: “They’re an absolutely massive side, a lot of big units. They’re very mobile as well, they’ll be a very dangerous outfit. We just stick to what we’re good at – work hard in defence and try and take our opportunities in attack when they come and that’s all we can do, look after ourselves.”
Tickets can be purchased online here, from the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices at Irish Independent Park and Thomond Park, or at the ground on match night. Prices: €;10 (adults), €;5 (juniors) and €;20 (family packs – two adults & two juniors).
Meanwhile, with a number of the current Jersey squad leaving at the end of this season, including five members of the starting pack who have signed for Aviva Premiership clubs, there is a collective desire to gain a trophy in their final outing together.
The Reds’ Cup final line-up shows a reversion, in most cases, to the personnel who featured prominently in the 10-match winning run from January to April, which saw Jersey reach the verge of the Championship play-offs, as well as progressing to the B&I Cup decider.
Simon Kerrod and Jake Woolmore are the starting props, either side of hooker Joe Buckle. James Voss is selected at lock, one of just two players retained in the starting XV from last Saturday’s 28-17 English Championship win over Richmond.
In the Jersey back row, the familiar ‘FGH’ unit of captain James Freeman and Gary Graham at flanker, plus Nick Haining at number 8, will take to the pitch for their 16th match of the season together as a trio. Haining has featured in all 32 of the Reds’ matches so far this season, including three pre-season games.
Kieran Hardy and Bristol loanee Callum Sheedy are paired together at half-back, Jordan Davies and Tongan international Apakuki Ma’afu resume their centre partnership, and Nick Scott and George Watkins start on the wings. Ulsterman Ross Adair, an Ireland Under-19 international in both rugby and cricket, is selected at full-back, getting the nod ahead of Jack Cuthbert.
Jersey’s bench includes the front row trio of Nick Selway, former Leinster player Sean McCarthy and Jake Armstrong. After a rare start for his 50th Reds appearance last Saturday, another Tongan cap, Uili Kolo’ofa’i, returns to his established role as an impact replacement, with Max Argyle covering the back row.
Jersey’s longest-serving player, 25-year-old scrum half Joel Dudley, is one of two back replacements alongside Lewis Robling. Among the unlucky backs to miss out are Brendan Cope and George Eastwell – both are recovering from suspected concussion following the Richmond game.
MUNSTER ‘A’: Stephen Fitzgerald; Dan Goggin, Sam Arnold, Cian Bohane (capt), Alex Wootton; David Johnston, John Poland; Peter McCabe, Kevin O’Byrne, Brian Scott, John Madigan, Darren O’Shea, Gavin Coombes, Conor Oliver, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, Liam O’Connor, Rory Burke, Mark Chisholm, Sean O’Connor, Abrie Griesel, Greg O’Shea.
JERSEY REDS: Ross Adair; George Watkins, Jordan Davies, Apakuki Ma’afu, Nick Scott; Callum Sheedy, Kieran Hardy; Jake Woolmore, Joe Buckle, Simon Kerrod, James Voss, Pierce Phillips, James Freeman (capt), Gary Graham, Nick Haining.
Replacements: Nick Selway, Sean McCarthy, Jake Armstrong, Uili Kolo’ofa’i, Max Argyle; Joel Dudley, Lewis Robling.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster ‘A’ to win: 2/9; Draw: 20/1; Jersey Reds to win: 10/3
Pre-Match Quotes: Peter Malone (Munster ‘A’) – “It’s great to be working towards a massive Cup final on Friday night and to have two teams competing for something this weekend has brought real intensity to training with a great buzz around the place. Part of the job on weeks like this has been running Saracens plays, but that hasn’t taken our focus off Jersey whom we’ve studied at length and prepared for very well.
“Jersey are a big and physical Championship side who also have an ability to put width on the ball. Their home record has been hugely impressive this season so hopefully being away will unsettle them a small bit. Their back row are particularly potent, as is their scrum and maul, and having beaten London Irish in both the Championship and the B&I semi-final, they have shown what a serious team they are.
“This is a very important competition for Munster Rugby and is a great pathway for lads to develop. This season alone for example, our young lads have faced massive challenges against the likes of Doncaster and Rotherham.
“You have to match that physicality before you can showcase your skills and ability, and once you do that, you are ready for professional rugby. Dave Kilcoyne, Duncan Williams and Billy Holland are just some of the lads who really kicked on after our success in 2012 so the B&I Cup has served us well over the years. To have progressed so far this season is a good mark for the strength in depth in the squad and the players coming through for the next generation.”
Top Scorers – 2016/17 British & Irish Cup: Munster ‘A’ – Points: Te Aihe Toma 22; Tries: Sam Arnold 3; Jersey Reds – Points: Sam Katz 52; Tries: Nick Haining 4
ROUTES TO THE FINAL:
MUNSTER ‘A’ – Pld 6, W6, D0, L0 – Pool 2: Won 35-24 away to Rotherham Titans; Won 34-3 at home to Rotherham Titans; Won 28-12 away to Doncaster Knights; Won 24-16 at home to Doncaster Knights; (The fourth Pool 2 team, London Welsh, were disqualified following their liquidation); Quarter-final: Won 26-3 at home to Ulster ‘A’; Semi-final: Won 25-9 at home to Ealing Trailfinders
JERSEY REDS – Pld 8, W7, D0, L1 – Pool 1: Lost 19-6 away to Ulster ‘A’; Won 49-12 at home to Cardiff Blues Premiership Select; Won 22-13 away to London Scottish; Won 23-19 at home to London Scottish; Won 55-10 v Cardiff Blues Premiership Select; Won 26-21 at home to Ulster ‘A’; Quarter-final: Won 36-20 at home to Cornish Pirates; Semi-final: Won 25-17 away to London Irish
BRITISH & IRISH CUP ROLL OF HONOUR –
2015/16 – London Welsh (beat Yorkshire Carnegie 33-10, Leeds)
2014/15 – Worcester Warriors (beat Doncaster Knights 35-5, Doncaster)
2013/14 – Leinster ‘A’ (beat Leeds Carnegie 44-17, Dublin)
2012/13 – Leinster ‘A’ (beat Newcastle Falcons 18-17, Newcastle)
2011/12 – Munster ‘A’ (beat Cross Keys 31-12, Cork)
2010/11 – Bristol (beat Bedford Blues 17-14, Bristol)
2009/10 – Cornish Pirates (beat Munster ‘A’ 23-14, Camborne)
– Munster ‘A’ have scored 22 tries in their six matches in this season’s British & Irish Cup, with fifteen different players crossing the whitewash. Centre Sam Arnold leads the way with three tries, closely followed by James Cronin, Vincent O’Brien, Gavin Coombes, Cian Bohane and Conor Oliver (two each)
– Kiwi loan signing Te Aihe Toma (21 points) is one of four place-kickers used by the province during the campaign, along with current Connacht squad member Steve Crosbie (14) and the Johnston brothers, David (21) and Bill (15)
– Jersey tallied up 30 tries on their way to reaching their first ever B&I Cup final. Back rower Nick Haining is their top scorer with four, while ex-Ballynahinch and Ulster winger Ross Adair, a former Ulster Bank League Rising Star award winner, has touched down three times
– Two charter flights will be carrying the Jersey squad, coaching team and around 100 supporters across the English Channel and Irish Sea, with a number of Jersey ex-pats, the players’ families and other connections joining the throng
– This is the Munster ‘A’ team’s third B&I Cup final appearance. They lost the inaugural decider to Cornish Pirates (23-14) in 2010 before winning the title two years later in Cork against Cross Keys (31-12) with Billy Holland as captain
– Current Jersey Reds head coach Harvey Biljon was assistant coach at Pirates when they defeated Munster in that 2010 final. The Channel Islands club, who were National Three Champions Cup winners in 2010, have overcome formerly unbeaten league leaders London Irish this season and Worcester Warriors in 2015, and retained their Championship status in relegation tussles with Doncaster (2013) and Bedford Blues (2014)