Following their recent defeats to Edinburgh and the Ospreys, reigning league champions Munster will be doubly determined to taste victory against Italian outfit Aironi on Friday night.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, October 28
MUNSTER (2nd) v AIRONI RUGBY (12th), Musgrave Park, 8.30pm (live TG4)
Team News: Six Ireland internationals, who all saw action during the recent Rugby World Cup, have been named in the Munster team to play Aironi Rugby at Musgrave Park.
Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Ronan O’Gara, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell and Denis Leamy will make their seasonal debuts for the reigning league champions.
Donncha O’Callaghan is listed among the replacements alongside Tomas O’Leary who is also set for his first involvement with the senior team this season, having had a runout with the ‘A’ side in Galway last Friday.
Australian recruit Will Chambers will make his debut for the province at outside centre which means a switch to the number 12 role for Danny Barnes.
The return of O’Connell naturally sees him take over as captain although Peter O’Mahony, who assumed the captaincy in O’Connell’s absence, retains his place in the starting line-up.
Five players – Johne Murphy, Doug Howlett, Barnes, Wian du Preez and O’Mahony – remain from the side that started the recent home defeat to the Ospreys, while returning number 8 James Coughlan missed that game through injury.
The selection reflects a certain urgency to get the Rugby World Cup players back into action as head coach Tony McGahan explained that Munster ‘need to hit the ground running’.
“I think you’ll have seen South African, English and other countries’ players come back and play as soon as they were out of the quarter-finals,” said McGahan.
“The Irish players had two weeks’ rest. We’re already at least a week-and-a-bit behind so we need to look at all the possibilities and people who are going to be best for us short term and long term in this four-week block that we have.”
Munster have a number of frontline players on their injury list at present – David Wallace, Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery along with Ian Keatley, who is their top scorer to date in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Meanwhile, there will be two long-awaited debuts for Aironi players in Cork as Italian internationals Andrea Masi and Luciano Orquera play in the RaboDirect PRO12 for the first time.
Masi, who is back from Rugby World Cup duty with Italy, will start at outside centre alongside Gilberto Pavan, with youngster Ruggero Trevisan named at full-back.
Head coach Rowland Phillips has made no changes on the wings where Sinoti Sinoti and Giovanbattista Venditti continue.
Orquera will wear the number 10 jersey in a completely new half-back combination with New Zealander Tyson Keats.
Two more players are back after playing for Italy in New Zealand. Marco Bortolami will skipper the team from the second row for the first time this season.
Roberto Santamaria, who was Aironi’s captain during the World Cup, starts from the replacements bench.
The experienced Fabio Ongaro is at hooker in a front row completed by props Fabio Staibano and Matias Aguero. In the second row Joshua Furno plays alongside Bortolami, while an unfamiliar back row will take to the pitch for the Italians.
Aironi must do without Nick Williams, the former Munster back rower and currently the top try scorer in this season’s league. Josh Sole takes his place at number 8, with Simone Favaro and Nicola Cattina taking the flanker roles.
Three other members of the Azzurri squad – Salvatore Perugini, Quintin Geldenhuys and Giulio Toniolatti – return from the World Cup and will start from the bench.
MUNSTER: Johne Murphy; Doug Howlett, Will Chambers, Danny Barnes, Keith Earls; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Denis Leamy, Peter O’Mahony, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Niall Ronan, Tomas O’Leary, Scott Deasy, Lifeimi Mafi.
AIRONI RUGBY: Ruggero Trevisan; Sinoti Sinoti, Andrea Masi, Gilberto Pavan, Giovanbattista Venditti; Luciano Orquera, Tyson Keats; Matias Aguero, Fabio Ongaro, Fabio Staibano, Joshua Furno, Marco Bortolami (capt), Nicola Cattina, Simone Favaro, Josh Sole.
Replacements: Roberto Santamaria, Salvatore Perugini, Luca Redolfini, Quintin Geldenhuys, Filippo Ferrarini, Tito Tebaldi, Naas Olivier, Giulio Toniolatti.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: John Carvill, David Keane (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/50; Draw: 40/1; Aironi Rugby to win: 12/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Damien Varley (Munster) – “Jerry (Flannery) has been extremely unfortunate with injuries. Him getting injured with Munster initially was my first break and then going to the World Cup and getting injured again.
“I feel very sorry for him. It’s a tough blow but at the same time it’s a cruel sport at times and injuries happen. That’s the nature of the beast.
“I’m sure one day injuries could happen to me and someone else will come in. That’s just the way it is, that’s just the cycle of rugby.
“We have 13 weeks straight in the next phase and you know, they are massive games.
“We have big points to prove in the Heineken Cup, we have our biggest rivals Leinster on Friday week. They are two different competitions and big, big games, with a lot of points to prove.
“It’s tough (to keep your place in the team), but that’s part of the Munster environment for the last couple of years.
“In an awful lot of positions right across the board, there are great players coming through.
“It’s just something to deal with and if anything it adds an extra incentive because they’re pushing you, you’re pushing back, you’re trying to push yourself. It can only be beneficial when you have that level of competition.
“No matter who’s there ahead of you, in a competitive environment you’re going to be trying to get at him, to try and improve yourself beyond him, to try and put yourself into the number one position.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Aironi Rugby – Points: Naas Olivier 53; Tries: Nick Williams 5; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 73; Tries: Danny Barnes 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 4, 2010 – Munster 33 Aironi Rugby 17, Musgrave Park
Sunday, February 27, 2011 – Aironi Rugby 10 Munster 20, Stadio Zaffanella
– Munster have slipped to back-to-back defeats in the RaboDirect PRO12, but have not lost three in-a-row in the league’s regular season since the 2006/07 campaign
– The Munstermen lost their most recent home game to the Ospreys and have not lost successive home matches in the competition since the last two games of the 2009/10 season
– Aironi are still searching for that elusive first away victory but have picked up just six losing bonus points on the road since they entered the league last season
– Munster won both encounters with Aironi last season and have never lost at home to an Italian team