Two sides in differing form meet at Irish Independent Park on Friday night as Edinburgh Rugby look to put things right in the Guinness PRO14, while Munster will hope to continue their impressive form.
A battle of two Guinness PRO14 stalwarts, this inter-Conference clash pits two giants of Celtic rugby against one another in what is a mouth-watering fixture for the neutral.
What’s at stake?
With five wins on the spin in all competitions, Johann van Graan’s men are bang in form heading into this one as they attempt to gain ground on Glasgow Warriors at the summit of Conference A.
Eight points back from their divisional rivals as things stand, now is no time to let up as the chase continues for supremacy, so a win over Edinburgh is a must for Munster.
Edinburgh will have to be at their best if they are to become the first side to emerge victorious in Munster since last December.
For the Scots’ part, two defeats in their last three Guinness PRO14 matches doesn’t make for pretty reading, and Richard Cockerill will be looking for a reaction from his side if they are to avenge last week’s loss to the Dragons and drag themselves back into Conference B’s top three.
Team news (Munster):
Van Graan makes 11 changes to the XV that ran out bonus-point winners in Zebre last weekend, with a host of Ireland internationals making their returns after the Autumn Tests drew to a close.
Chris Farrell starts for the first time this season and is partnered in the centres by Rory Scannell, as JJ Hanrahan plays at fly-half, while Ireland and Lions superstar Conor Murray continues his return from injury by getting the nod at scrum-half.
Peter O’Mahony comes in to captain the side, with only Arno Botha and Chris Cloete keeping their places in the pack.
Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan start in the front row, while Tadhg Beirne gets the nod at lock after impressing on Ireland duty, where he is partnered by Billy Holland.
Among the backs, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls slot in out wide, with Mike Haley keeping his place at full-back.
Team news (Edinburgh Rugby):
With a number of notable injuries to star players, Cockerill has also been forced to ring the changes, making nine to the side that fell to the Dragons.
George Taylor gets his competitive debut for the club at outside centre alongside Juan Pablo Socino, while Nathan Fowles and Jaco van der Walt start in the half-back pairing and Tom Brown comes in on the right wing.
It’s all change in the front row, with Rory Sutherland, David Cherry and Murray McCallum getting the nod, supported by Lewis Wynne who makes his first start for Edinburgh in the back row.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan said: “As we saw in the quarter-final last year they put you under quite a bit of pressure. Edinburgh are a tricky team, they box kick so well.
“They have a very specific plan and they’ve got some very good broken field runners.
“I think they are a team that never gives up so it’s going to be a tough battle.”
Edinburgh Rugby head coach Richard Cockerill said: “We’ve got a young group again, but part of our development as a squad is that we have got to put people in a position to grow.
“It’s been a tight turnaround with regards to training, but we have prepared as well as we can and we will travel with the mindset to win.”
Key battle: Peter O’Mahony v Luke Hamilton
With wholesale changes made to both starting packs, each side will look towards their captains to drive the scrum.
O’Mahony will relish the chance to once more sport the armband for his beloved Munster at Irish Independent Park and will favour their chances at the set piece, ably deputised by Tadhg Beirne in front of him.
Hamilton, on the other hand, is tasked with drawing together what is an inexperienced, yet undoubtedly talented, set of forwards on what is just his ninth Guinness PRO14 appearance for Edinburgh.
The 26-year-old will rely on help from the gnarled Rory Sutherland at prop, set to feature for the 70th time in the Guinness PRO14 for his side.
Key stat: Munster have lost just once at home to the Scotsmen since 2006 – 14-13 at Thomond Park in September 2014 – whilst Edinburgh’s only previous victory at Irish Independent Park was on their first ever visit in April 2004.
Did you know? Edinburgh Rugby’s last 14 matches in all tournaments have been won by the home side on the day. The Scotsmen have not been victorious away from home since a trip to Connacht in March.
Munster: 15. Mike Haley, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Rory Scannell, 11. Keith Earls, 10. JJ Hanrahan, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Niall Scannell, 3. John Ryan, 4. Tadhg Beirne, 5. Billy Holland, 6. Peter O’Mahony (capt), 7. Chris Cloete, 8. Arno Botha
Replacements: 16. Kevin O’Byrne, 17. Jeremy Loughman, 18. Ciaran Parker, 19. Fineen Wycherley, 20. Gavin Coombes, 21. Duncan Williams, 22. Tyler Bleyendaal, 23. Sammy Arnold
Edinburgh Rugby: 15. Dougie Fife, 14. Tom Brown, 13. George Taylor, 12. Juan Pablo Socino, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Nathan Fowles, 1. Rory Sutherland, 2. David Cherry, 3. Murray McCallum, 4. James Hodgson, 5. Callum Hunter-Hill, 6. Ally Miller, 7. Lewis Wynne, 8. Luke Hamilton (capt)
Replacements: 16. Ross Ford, 17. Darryl Marfo, 18. Pietro Ceccarelli, 19. Callum Atkinson, 20. Senitiki Nayalo, 21. Sean Kennedy, 22. Jason Baggott, 23. Chris Dean
TV: At Irish Independent Park, Cork, 7.35pm. Live on Premier Sports, eir Sports
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Adam Jones, Stuart Gaffikin
TMO: Brian MacNeice
Citing Commissioner: Tim Lowry
Keith Earls crossed for a first-half hat-trick as Munster made light work of Edinburgh on Friday night in the Guinness PRO14 to secure a sixth win on the spin.
In addition to Earls’ treble – which took him to 50 career tries in the red of Munster – Andrew Conway also crossed twice and man of the match Chris Farrell marked his first start after injury with a try in a totally dominant first-half showing.
Duhan van der Merwe’s fine solo score was Edinburgh’s sole response as Munster opened up a 34-7 half-time lead.
Van der Merwe did bag a second at Irish Independent Park after the interval but Munster replacement Tyler Bleyendaal also dotted down in a second half that was far more even than the first.
The final try of the night went to Ireland centre Farrell – injured during the Six Nations but back to his best now – as he barged clear for his second and Munster’s eighth.
Johan van Graan had made eight 11 changes to the XV that ran out bonus-point winners in Zebre last weekend and one of the new faces made an immediate impact.
Outside centre Farrell – in his first start following injury – powered over having been found by another returnee Conor Murray after Billy Holland’s initial break.
A second Munster try was not long in coming, Conway charging clear after JJ Hanrahan’s clever inside pass released him.
Three minutes later and Conway had a second, Arno Botha with the initial burst and then clever hands from Farrell and Hanrahan creating an overlap from which Conway profited in the right corner.
At 19-0 after only 19 minutes, it was getting ugly quickly for Edinburgh but they summoned a response through van der Merwe who brushed off Mike Haley and Chris Cloete for a super score.
That was a false dawn for the visitors however, who ran Munster so close in last year’s semi-final qualifier at Thomond Park.
Earls got the first of his treble in the left corner, again found by Murray after the Munster rolling maul had taken them up to the line.
His second was made by Farrell’s burst and Haley’s inside pass and his third came just before the break, scooting clear down the left wing after yet more good work from Haley and Conway.
The only misstep of the first half was Hanrahan’s goalkicking, the fly-half missing four of six conversions and it was 34-7 at the interval.
Cockerill’s Edinburgh side have not won on their travels since March but they were much improved after half time.
Scrambling defence denied both Murray and Earls and the hour mark came and went with no scores to speak of.
However, another man returning from injury in Bleyendaal did get over in the left corner before van der Merwe did the same for his second up the other end.
And it was fitting on a sublime return to the starting XV that man of the match Farrell finished off proceedings with his second after another bullocking run.