Munster will field a team packed full of youthful exuberance when they host Benetton Rugby in the final round of the shortened Guinness PRO14 campaign at Thomond Park on Friday (kick-off 6pm).
There will be a senior debut for Garryowen’s Cian Hurley, with Diarmuid Barron, Jake Flannery and Paddy Patterson all making their first Munster starts.
A week ahead of the PRO14 final against Leinster, four Greencore Munster Rugby Academy players are set to feature – Thomas Ahern and Flannery both start and Jack Daly and Ben Healy are on the bench.
20-year-old Clonakilty native Hurley is a product of Clonakilty RFC and CBC Cork. He has made five appearances for Munster ‘A’ this season and is a member of the IRFU’s National Talent squad.
Flannery, who will advance to the Munster senior squad next season, makes his first start for the province at full-back having played two previous games off the bench.
There will also be a first start for hooker Barron on his 11th appearance for the province, with on-loan scrum half Patterson is handed his first start after his debut as a replacement against the Scarlets last week.
Andrew Conway and Liam Coombes join Tipperary youngster Flannery in the back-three, Alex McHenry and Rory Scannell combine in midfield, and Patterson will have JJ Hanrahan outside him at half-back.
Winger Coombes commented: “Benetton have been quite unlucky this year. They obviously haven’t got a win yet this season but there have been a lot of small moments at the end of games that have cost them.
“Of course against us it was a drop-goal, against Connacht it was a last-play try from a maul and the last time we played them in Thomond Park it was a late penalty from JJ at the halfway line as well that won it.
“They’ve had a lot of disruptions this season with Covid and a lot of players away in the Italian set-up, but I think it’s a really big challenge this weekend and we’re really focused on it.”
The selected tight five has an average age of just under 22, as locks Hurley and Ahern pack down behind a front row trio of Liam O’Connor (the elder statesman at 25), Barron and Keynan Knox.
Waterford man Jack O’Donoghue will captain the side from blindside flanker, with Jack O’Sullivan reverting to the number 8 position and Chris Cloete slotting back in at openside.
Among the replacements, Matt Gallagher is set for his first appearance since sustaining a shoulder injury in November. Stalwart back rower Tommy O’Donnell also returns for the first time since January.
MUNSTER (v Benetton Rugby): Jake Flannery; Andrew Conway, Alex McHenry, Rory Scannell, Liam Coombes; JJ Hanrahan, Paddy Patterson; Liam O’Connor, Diarmuid Barron, Keynan Knox, Cian Hurley, Thomas Ahern, Jack O’Donoghue (capt), Chris Cloete, Jack O’Sullivan.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Jeremy Loughman, Roman Salanoa, Jack Daly, Tommy O’Donnell, Nick McCarthy, Ben Healy, Matt Gallagher.