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Crowley Steps Up For First Champions Cup Start

Crowley Steps Up For First Champions Cup Start

Former Ireland Under-20 international Jack Crowley dons the number 10 jersey again for Munster this week ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

The Munster team has been announced for Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup encounter with Castres Olympique at Stade Pierre-Fabre (kick-off 9pm local time/8pm Irish time).

There are five changes to the side that came from behind to beat Ulster 18-13 in the United Rugby Championship at Thomond Park last Saturday.

Captain Peter O’Mahony returns after missing that game due to a leg strain, with Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Conor Murray and Jack O’Donoghue also coming into the starting XV.

Referencing the province’s wins over Wasps and Castres before Christmas, head coach Johann van Graan said: “We came out of a very challenging time with two wins out of two that would put us in a very good position at the back-end of Europe.

“The way it is structured currently, it is four games. If you win three out of your four games, it puts you in a very good position to make the knockout rounds.

“You might need less, but obviously we’d like to win every game that we play and we’ve got Wasps the following Sunday, which will be a nine-day turnaround.”

The South African added: “The last game we played in Castres, we lost 13-12. We got one point and even that point we got was tight in that pool.

“We are going to have perform. It will be tight. Who knows what will happen in the other games? So you might have to wait quite a bit to know where your fate lies.”

Cork youngster Jack Crowley, who only turned 21 today, keeps his place at out-half and starts in the Champions Cup for the first time.

The Cork Constitution clubman made his European debut off the bench against Castres at Thomond Park last month. He combines at half-back with the returning Murray.

Conway and Earls join Mike Haley in the back-three, while Chris Farrell and Rory Scannell continue their centre partnership. Damian de Allende misses out with an abdominal injury.

Tadhg Beirne, last week’s player-of-the-match, switches to the second row alongside Fineen Wycherley, behind an unchanged front row of Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and Stephen Archer.

O’Mahony, O’Donoghue and Gavin Coombes complete the pack, with the 24-year-old Coombes insisting ‘they’re always tough games against Castres, who have a big, physical pack and a few very good backs as well’.

Out-half Jake Flannery is in line to make his Champions Cup debut as a replacement. Jean Kleyn is also included in the matchday squad after missing out last week due to a knee injury.

MUNSTER (v Castres Olympique): Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Jack Crowley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Fineen Wycherley, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, John Hodnett, Craig Casey, Jake Flannery, Shane Daly.