As Munster bid to complete the second leg of an early season Italian double, they welcome back some key figures in the form of Ireland internationals Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray and David Kilcoyne.
GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, September 19
MUNSTER (6th) v ZEBRE (11th), Thomond Park, 7.30pm
Team News: The Munster team to face Zebre at Thomond Park on Friday has been named, and sees the return of Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray, David Kilcoyne, JJ Hanrahan, Paddy Butler and Denis Hurley to competitive action.
Head coach Anthony Foley has made seven changes to the team that defeated Benetton Treviso in Italy last Friday. Full-back Felix Jones retains the captaincy for a second consecutive game.
BJ Botha comes into the front row at tighthead prop with James Cronin and hooker Duncan Casey retaining their starting places.
Billy Holland lines out once again in the second row and is partnered by returning Ireland captain O’Connell.
In the back row, Butler makes his first appearance of the season at blindside flanker, with openside Tommy O’Donnell and number 8 Robin Copeland remaining in situ from round 2.
Murray also returns at scrum half and is joined by Johnny Holland in the half-backs. A product of the Greencore Munster Academy, Holland began a senior development contract at the start of this season and will make his first competitive start for Munster on Friday night.
Hurley opens his account for Munster this season at inside centre, partnering Andrew Smith who takes charge of the outside channel.
Following two 80-minute performances in rounds 1 and 2 of the PRO12, Andrew Conway’s place on the right wing goes to Ronan O’Mahony this week. O’Mahony was included on the bench last weekend but did not feature in the game. Simon Zebo retains responsibility for the left wing, as does skipper Jones at full-back.
Kilcoyne, who toured Argentina with the Ireland squad in June, and Hanrahan – a Nations Cup winner with Emerging Ireland that same month – will hope to begin their competitive seasons against Zebre as both players are named among the replacements.
Meanwhile, Zebre boss Andrew Cavinato has made seven personnel changes to the team that lined out in last weekend’s 33-13 defeat to Ulster in Belfast.
The Italians, coached by Cavinato and Victor Jimenez, have prepared for the Munster game with a week-long training camp on the outskirts of Dublin.
There are first starts for new arrivals Andrea Lovotti and Edoardo Padovani, two members of the Italian union’s national academy.
The 21-year-old Padovani will link up with Guglielmo Palazzani (23) to form one of the youngest half-back pairings ever selected by an Italian team in the PRO12.
New Zealander Kelly Haimona shifts to inside centre in place of the benched Gonzalo Garcia, while there is an all-new front row of loosehead Lovotti, hooker Andrea Manici and Luciano Leibson at tighthead.
49-times capped Italy international Quintin Geldenhuys returns to captain Zebre from the second row, with Samuela Vunisa – a try-scoring replacement against Ulster – back in the number 8 jersey.
Cavinato commented: “It is a very difficult game for us. We need to improve defensively and eliminate the individual errors that have cost us against Cardiff and Ulster – especially with regards to our tactical kicking.”
MUNSTER: Felix Jones (capt); Ronan O’Mahony, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Johnny Holland, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Paul O’Connell, Paddy Butler, Tommy O’Donnell, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, David Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Johne Murphy.
ZEBRE: Hendrik Daniller; David Odiete, Giulio Bisegni, Kelly Haimona, Giulio Toniolatti; Edoardo Padovani, Guglielmo Palazzani; Andrea Lovotti, Andrea Manici, Luciano Leibson, Quintin Geldenhuys (capt), George Biagi, Mauro Bergamasco, Filippo Cristiano, Samuela Vunisa.
Replacements: Oliviero Fabiani, Andrea de Marchi, Dario Chistolini, Valerio Bernabò, Andries Ferreira, Alberto Chillon, Gonzalo Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, Gary Glennon (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/50; Draw: 50/1; Zebre to win: 12/1
Pre-Match Quotes: David Kilcoyne (Munster) – “There’s always things to work on and hopefully I’ll show at the weekend that I can keep putting my best foot forward. I think the team put in a very good performance over in Treviso.
“They have been our bogey team and we found them a very difficult side and they put two big wins against us. I think the lads really fronted up physically.
“I’m just trying to get in there and add to that physical presence this weekend. Zebre’s an excellent opportunity and I’m going to try to be as physically dominant as I possibly can and keep my place for the following week.
“I was delighted to be back in the Ireland fold (on the summer tour), subbing the first game, getting game-time there, and then starting the last game against Argentina and getting the two wins over there.
“So I was very happy with that after how last season finished, not so much the losses with Munster but personal form and I just want to bring that into this season and try and put my best foot forward.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Munster – Points: CJ Stander 15; Tries: CJ Stander 3; Zebre – Points: Kelly Haimona 14; Tries: Brendon Leonard, Filippo Ferrarini, Dion Berryman, Samuela Vunisa 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, October 26, 2012 – Munster 29 Zebre 3, Thomond Park
Friday, May 3, 2013 – Zebre 25 Munster 27, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, September 13, 2013 – Zebre 21 Munster 43, Stadio XXV Aprile
Saturday, February 15, 2014 – Munster 36 Zebre 8, Musgrave Park
– Munster ended a three-match losing run with their 21-10 victory in Treviso last Friday
– The Munstermen have been defeated in an unprecedented three successive games at Thomond Park in the professional era, but have never lost to an Italian side in Ireland
– Zebre have slipped to three successive GUINNESS PRO12 defeats without tallying a single league point in the process
– Zebre have lost all 21 previous encounters with Irish provinces in all competitions, gaining just five losing
bonus points and a try-scoring bonus point in the process
– Zebre have accumulated just one losing bonus point from their four previous clashes with Munster, while the Munstermen have recorded three maximum point victories