Munster will be looking to regain top spot in Conference A when they welcome struggling Zebre to Thomond Park for Round 18 of the Guinness PRO14.
The Irish province’s winning form was halted last time out after a 10-6 defeat at the hands of Scarlets, while the Italians are in search of their first win since Round Seven.
What’s at stake?
Three points behind leaders Glasgow Warriors, a victory for Munster would give them a chance to return to the top spot in Conference A.
They have an 11-point buffer over third-placed Connacht, with a victory nevertheless helpful in their bid to secure a play-off place.
Zebre will be desperate to secure a first Guinness PRO14 victory since October as they look to gain ground on Toyota Cheetahs ahead of them in Conference A.
Team News (Munster Rugby)
CJ Stander captains the side on his return from international duty, with Jack O’Donoghue set to make his first start since recovering from a serious knee injury.
There are seven changes in total for Munster, Alex Wootton, JJ Hanrahan, Stephen Archer, Darren O’Shea and Chris Cloete also coming in to the starting XV.
Rory Scannell and Dan Goggin continue their centre partnership with Alby Mathewson and Hanrahan in the half-backs.
Team News (Zebre)
Zebre have their Italy internationals back for this tie, all of whom start apart from Tommaso Castello, who underwent surgery on his leg fractured against England.
After two months, Lovotti and Padovani are back in the squad. The fullback will earn his 70th cap with the Parma outfit after three tries in the national jersey – and will start together with 3 other former Azzurri – Boni, Giammarioli and captain Biagi.
Munster Head Coach Johan van Graan said: “It’s about finding the balance over the next 10 weeks but most importantly getting a win against Zebre at home.
“It’s four points on offer at home and four points we’ve got to work hard for and if there’s a bonus point available we’ll go for that as well.
“Most importantly, it’s a new rugby game at the start of a new block. We haven’t been together as a team for quite a bit of time now.
“We’re second in our conference in the Guinness PRO14 and we’ve got to keep up to get to Glasgow, so exciting times ahead.”
CJ Stander v Renato Giammarioli
CJ Stander will be hoping to put the disappointment of Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations campaign behind him as he returns to captain his club.
Giammarioli will have to be at the top of his game against Stander who can prove a handful against even the best sides.
The two sides have met on thirteen previous occasions with Munster winning them all.
Did you know?
Zebre have visited Irish provinces on 25 previous occasions in the Guinness PRO14, winning just once at Connacht in February 2018.
Munster Rugby: Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, Alby Mathewson; Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Fineen Wycherley, Darren O’Shea; Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete, CJ Stander (c).
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Liam O’Connor, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Arno Botha, Duncan Williams, Tyler Bleyendaal, Chris Farrell.
Zebre: Edoardo Padovani; Gabriele Di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni, Tomaso Boni, James Elliott, Carlo Canna, Gugleilmo Palazzini; Andrea Lovotti, Oliviero Fabiani, Roberto Tenga, David Sisi, George Biagi (c), Maxime Mbanda, Jimmy Tuvaiti, Renato Giammarioli
Replacements: Luhandre Luus, Daniele Rimpelli, Marco Ciccioli, Leonard Krumov, Apisai Tauyavuca, Marcello Violi, Francois Brummer, Matthia Bellini.
TV: At Thomond Park, Limerick, 7.45pm. Live on Premier Sports, TG4, ei sport and DAZN
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
Assistant Referee: Adam Jones (WRU), Mark Patton (IRFU)
Munster staged an impressive second-half comeback to overcome a stubborn Zebre side to record a bonus-point win at Thomond Park.
The Italian side were excellent in the first half and went 12-0 up inside 20 minutes as Jamie Elliot and Roberto Tenga scored fine tries.
The Red Army left it late in the half but crucially got on the board through Jeremy Loughman, then got second and third tries in the second half through Rhys Marshall and Darren Sweetnam.
Niall Scannell came on to grab the fourth and Mike Haley the fifth, a cruel ending for Zebre but Munster power on in Conference A.
The Italian side started like a house on fire at Thomond Park and after a spell of pressure got the opener on nine minutes, biding their time and then spinning out wide for wing Ellitot to dart into the corner.
Carlo Canna couldn’t convert from the touchline but his side were soon attacking Munster’s 22 again, going through 13 phases before prop Tenga collected a poke-through for Zebre’s second.
This time Canna converted for a 12-0 lead and that’s the way it stayed for most of the first half, the out-half missing two penalty attempts but Zebre’s patience in building through the phases the dominant storyline.
In first half added time though Munster finally got on the board, winning a scrum penalty and kicking to the corner before prop Loughman bundled over.
JJ Hanrahan was unluckily denied by the post with the acute conversion attempt to leave Zebre with a 12-5 lead at the break in front of a stunned Thomond Park.
You sensed the Red Army surge would come though and come it did in the second half, only to be met by staunch Zebre defence and smart positioning in the backfield, combined with accurate an accurate kicking display.
On 52 minutes though Munster received a penalty for a tip-tackle and capitalised with five points, hooker Marshall in for his fifth of the campaign off the back of a maul.
Replacement Tyler Bleyendaal converted impressively to level things at 12-12 but Zebre got a second wind through a strong running game, assisted as Chris Cloete saw yellow for infringing at the ruck.
Guglielmo Palazzani was unfortunate to hit the post and the pendulum swung back Munster’s way, with Bleyendaal first breaking through midfield before Sweetnam dived over in the corner.
Munster led 17-12 with 15 left to play but soon had the bonus-point score as Niall Scannell was driven over, Haley jinking his way over for the fifth at the death.