The Munster team has been announced for Thursday’s historic showdown with South Africa ‘A’, in association with Pinergy, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh (kick-off 7.30pm).
The Virgin Media Two-broadcast match will see a sell-out crowd of 41,400 supporters make their way to the Cork venue for the largest ever attendance at a rugby fixture in the province.
Speaking ahead of the much-anticipated game, Munster head coach Graham Rowntree said: “The biggest attendance in the province for a rugby game, which excites me, just that very statement. The lads are raring to go, we’ve had a good week’s training.
“We’ve had a shortened week, a week off last week, much needed and we’ve just finished a snappy training session. The lads are ready for it and what a historic occasion to be involved in for these men.
“We’ve got some stuff we want to keep building on, particularly around our attack but we know what we’re going to get from the South Africans, and I don’t mean any disrespect in that statement.
“They’re physical, (have) got a couple of familiar faces in that forward pack and they’ll be very physical. It’s always been the same since I’ve ever coached against any South African national team or province, you know what’s coming, deal with it as another challenge.”
Asked about the historic nature of Thursday’s game, he added: “There’s been a few of them hasn’t there? Australia, the Māori, the All Blacks of course. It’s a special moment for Munster Rugby.
“I said to the lads on Monday morning, Munster are known for special moments and special games like this and we should cherish every hour of this week going into a such a big game.”
Jack O’Donoghue captains a Munster squad that includes three Academy players – promising teenage lock Edwin Edogbo starts and Cian Hurley and Patrick Campbell are both on bench duty.
There are seven changes to the side that lost 15-14 to Ulster last time out, with centre Antoine Frisch making his first start for the province after recovering from a calf injury suffered during the Emerging Ireland tour.
Scottish second row Kiran McDonald, who recently joined on a short-term deal, partners Edogbo in the engine room. Simon Zebo, Ben Healy, Josh Wycherley, Roman Salanoa and Gavin Coombes also come into the starting XV.
Mike Haley and Corkmen Zebo and Shane Daly make up the back-three, Frisch forms a new centre partnership with Rory Scannell, and Healy and Paddy Patterson will direct operations from half back.
The hosts’ tight five is completed by Wycherley, Diarmuid Barron and Salanoa, while O’Donoghue has John Hodnett and Coombes for company in the back row. Barron, Coombes and Daly played for Ireland ‘A’ last Friday.
Hooker Niall Scannell has completed the return-to-play protocols and is selected among the replacements, along with props Liam O’Connor and Keynan Knox. Hurley and Alex Kendellen complete the forward cover.
Neil Cronin, Campbell and Malakai Fekitoa are the back-line options, with Fekitoa returning from international duty with Tonga.
The Scannell brothers, Rory and Niall, are the only two players in the matchday squad who played in Munster’s last game against a touring team, the Māori All Blacks, in 2016.
MUNSTER (v South Africa ‘A’): Mike Haley; Shane Daly, Antoine Frisch, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Ben Healy, Paddy Patterson; Josh Wycherley, Diarmuid Barron, Roman Salanoa, Edwin Edogbo, Kiran McDonald, Jack O’Donoghue (capt), John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Liam O’Connor, Keynan Knox, Cian Hurley, Alex Kendellen, Neil Cronin, Patrick Campbell, Malakai Fekitoa.