The much-anticipated Munster team for Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Wasps at the Coventry Building Society Arena has been announced (kick-off 3.15pm).
Rugby has been very much secondary in recent weeks as 14 Munster players and staff have been quarantining in Cape Town, with a further 34 quarantining at home in Ireland since last Wednesday.
A squad of Ireland internationals, players returning from injury, and youngsters from the National Talent and Provincial Talent squads have been training at Munster’s High Performance Centre in Limerick ahead of this European opener.
12 players are set to make their senior debuts for Munster in Coventry, with eight members of the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy included.
There are five debutants in the starting XV – the Academy quartet Patrick Campbell, Scott Buckley, Eoin O’Connor and Daniel Okeke, along with 23-year-old senior prop James French.
John Hodnett has recovered from a short-term ankle injury to make his first start in 13 months, and his Champions Cup debut, having missed the majority of last season with an Achilles injury.
There are first starts of the season in red for Conor Murray, Damian de Allende and Chris Farrell, who makes his 50th Munster appearance after returning from an abdomen injury.
Young Munster starlet Campbell starts at full-back, flanked by Andrew Conway and Keith Earls, it is the familiar Farrell-de Allende combination in the centre, and Joey Carbery and Murray man the half-back berths.
Dave Kilcoyne joins forces with UCC duo Buckley and French in the front row, O’Connor packs down with Tadhg Beirne at lock, and a loose forwards trio of Hodnett, Okeke and captain Peter O’Mahony completes the side.
Having recovered from a knee injury, Roman Salanoa could make his European debut, while seven other players are in line to make their Munster debuts as replacements.
Summer addition Declan Moore and the Academy quartet of Mark Donnelly, Ethan Coughlan, Tony Butler and Jonathan Wren are all included.
Also making the cut are Cork Constitution’s John Forde, a product of PBC Cork and member of the Provincial Talent Squad, and Young Munster’s Conor Moloney, a member of the National Talent Squad.
Moloney came up through the ranks at Ennis RFC in the same team as Coughlan and Butler. Indeed, the three of them lined out for the Ennis Under-18s as recently as last year.
With Munster’s senior coaching staff all in isolation, Ian Costello has looked after their preparations for Coventy. Skipper O’Mahony has nothing but praise for the Munster Academy manager.
“He’s been great. We certainly have to focus on ourselves given the circumstances, it was difficult certainly last week to look anywhere beyond us and getting us up to speed,” he explained, earlier in the week.
“Naturally, he has some great insights into the individuals involved (with Wasps as a former coach there). It’s just been a bit crazy, just getting as ready as possible has been key.
“The only way we can go and have an incredible memory for ourselves is by having the training and getting everyone to the same level and speed.
“It was much more about getting focused on what we can do training-wise and preparing, that’s the main thing.”
MUNSTER (v Wasps): Patrick Campbell; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Scott Buckley, James French, Eoin O’Connor, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), John Hodnett, Daniel Okeke.
Replacements: Declan Moore, Mark Donnelly, Roman Salanoa, John Forde, Conor Moloney, Ethan Coughlan, Tony Butler, Jonathan Wren.