Munster and Zebre both welcome back a host of international stars for Round 18 of the Guinness PRO12, with the Irish province looking well-placed for a top-four finish.
What’s at stake?
Munster sit third in the Guinness PRO12, just three points behind Leinster, so a win could send them top if the leaders slip up against Cardiff Blues.
Second-placed Ospreys are a point ahead of Munster so would also need to drop points away at Benetton Treviso if Munster are to overhaul them this weekend.
A win for Zebre could move them ahead of their Italian rivals who are currently two points above them in the Guinness PRO12 table.
Zebre team news
Zebre welcome back three internationals to their starting XV for the visit of Munster this weekend.
Centre Tommaso Boni, scrum-half Marcello Violi and flanker Maxime Mbandà will all start with Kayle Van Zyl, Johan Meyer and Derick Minnie also in the XV after returning from injuries.
It will be Van Zyl’s first start of the calendar year with Valerio Bernabò captaining the side from the second row.
Munster team news
The Irish trio of Niall Scannell, John Ryan and Peter O’Mahony all return to the starting line-up for Munster with Jack O’Donoghue at No.8 after recovering from an ankle injury.
Dave O’Callaghan makes his first start at second row on his 70th appearance in a Munster shirt alongside Billy Holland in the engine room.
Tyler Bleyendaal is the only change in the backs from the Munster side that beat Cardiff Blues in Round 17 with Andrew Conway at full-back after his international debut against England.
Ronan O’Mahony knows his side will pay the price in Italy if they’re distracted by their upcoming European Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse.
He said: “A lot of their players will be hurting coming off the back of the 6 Nations and it would be stupid and unwise to go into this game with our eyes set on Toulouse.
“Last time over there it took a late drop-goal to give us a little more breathing room. They love to run it from anywhere and that will keep us on our toes.
“For some lads this is their last chance to show Rassie what they’ve got before Toulouse next weekend. Plus, only five rounds remain in the PRO12 so every point we can pick up is vital.”
Key battle: Ronan O’Mahony v Kayle Van Zyl
O’Mahony is Munster’s leading try scorer in the Guinness PRO12 with seven and will be looking to stretch his legs out wide if the weather stays fine in Italy.
A strong performance from the 27-year-old could be crucial if Munster are to secure a try bonus point and keep the pressure on Leinster and Ospreys.
It’s set to be a stern test for the South African-born Van Zyl who has not started a game in 2017 yet because of injury.
Key stat: Zebre have not beaten an Irish Province since winning 13-6 against Ulster in Parma in September 2014, while Munster have lost just once in the Guinness PRO12 since round 6.
Did you know? Munster’s away record in the PRO12 this season is an impressive won eight, lost one, the defeat being to Leinster at Aviva Stadium on 8 October. They have never lost against Zebre, securing seven try bonus points in their nine matches.
Zebre top points scorer: Carlo Canna 66 points Top try scorer: Dries van Schalkwyk and Giovanbattista Venditti 4
Munster top points scorer: Tyler Bleyendaal 102 points Top try scorer: Ronan O’Mahony 8
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 9, Munster won 9.
At Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 3pm local time (2pm Ireland & UK).
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU, 4th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll (IRFU), Elia Rizzo (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Francesco Grillo (FIR)
Ronan O’Mahony maintained his try-scoring form as Munster made sure to keep the pressure on their Guinness PRO12 title rivals with convincing bonus-point victory over Zebre.
Munster’s leading try scorer in the Guinness Pro12 this season, O’Mahony took his tally for the season to nine with a double against Italians.
The returning James Cronin similarly crossed twice with brothers Niall and Rory Scannell also on the scoreboard alongside Tommy O’Donnell as Munster not only maintained their 100 per cent record versus Zebre but kept pace with Ospreys and Leinster.
It did not take Munster long to find their feet as they crossed the try line with their very first attack – the returning Niall Scannell – who was later named man of the match – going over after a driving maul. Tyler Bleyendaal successfully sent over the conversion.
And after a succession of penalties won, the Munster maul got on a roll again in the 18th minute with O’Donnell the one to go over, Bleyendaal again with the conversion.
The momentum was firmly with the Irish province as the penalty count continued to rise for Zebre.
Try number three arrived for the visitors after 25 minutes as Munster went through the phases before spinning the ball out to the left win for O’Mahony to record his eighth try of the season. Bleyendaal again dissected the posts and the score was 21-0 to Munster.
Zebre have not beaten an Irish Province since winning 13-6 against Ulster in Parma in September 2014, although they did give their fans a lift ten minutes before the break with their first try of the match.
After Zebre pressured the Munster line following a line out, South African flanker Derick Minnie picked up the ball to cross, with Marcello Violi’s conversion taking the score to 21-7.
There was still time for a Munster penalty before the break though as Bleyendaal took the visitors advantage out to 17 points.
Six minutes after the restart and Munster had the try bonus point in the bag as centre Rory Scannell picked a hole in the Zebre defence to cross near the post.
Bleyendaal continued his impressive form from the kicking tee while Zebre’s misery was compounded with Violi also sent to the sin-bin.
And the man advantage was made to count almost immediately by the visitors as O’Mahony helped himself to his second try of the afternoon after a cute offload by Darren Sweetnam to take the score to 36-7.
Zebre’s second converted try of the afternoon came courtesy of Lloyd Greef on 55 minutes but six minutes later Munster crossed the whitewash for the sixth time, replacement Cronin marking his return from a back injury, with Rory Scannell converting this time.
After a raft of replacements, Zebre were dealt a further blow on 66 minutes when Oliviero Fabiani was shown a yellow.
And just five minutes later, Munster took the score out to 50-14 as Cronin got his second after a pick and go from a five metre scrum.
That proved to be the end of the scoring as Munster warmed themselves up nicely for next weekend’s European Champions Cup quarter-final with Toulouse.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final
24 Mar 2017