Munster’s young guns get a chance to earn their stripes against Zebre

Craig Casey, Tom Ahern, and Jeremy Loughman return from Ireland camp

Munster v Zebre, Musgrave Park (Friday, 7.35, live on TG4, Premier Sports)

Craig Casey, Tom Ahern, and Jeremy Loughman return from Ireland camp as Munster look to build on what was an excellent performance in a friendly win over Harlequins as the province returns to the competitive fare of the United Rugby Championship (URC).

Casey and Ahern start, while Loughman is named among the replacements. Joey Carbery picked up a slight knock in training so Ennis native Tony Butler will start at outhalf.

He is one of four academy players in the matchday squad as flanker Ruadhán Quinn is also in the run-on team while scrumhalf Ethan Coughlan and fullback Ben O’Connor are on the bench. The latter has been released by the Ireland Under-20s to play this match.


Munster attack coach Mike Prendergast was pleased with the team’s performance against Harlequins, highlighting a marked improvement from the previous game. He said: “[The victory over ‘Quins was especially impressive] coming off the back of a bonus point win at the Scarlets where our performance, if I am honest through the whole 80 minutes, wasn’t where it needed to be.

“I thought that we played well for the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes, that mid part [of the game] we didn’t play well, and it is something that we spoke about.”

Prendergast was asked about the academy duo, scrumhalf Coughlan and Butler, both of whom have signed two-year senior contracts that take effect from next season. “They are two good lads who understand how we want to play and have worked hard to get to where they are at the moment. It is good to see that they have both signed on which is very positive for us.

“In the halfback position there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders as a nine and 10 and I think both of them are very calm in what they do, both good technical players as well. The beauty of training together as a squad [including the academy players] is that they are used to what we are doing.”

The defending URC champions will be hoping to rack up a bonus-point victory, but Prendergast was adamant that they will not underestimate their Italian visitors. “We have seen what they can do, they can score tries, they have some very, very good individuals and they have some poachers in their team.

“They create turnovers, and they are good at unstructured stuff. Something that we have been very good at over the last few weeks is our ruck, it has been very clean.”

Parma head coach Fabio Roselli said that his side would embrace the challenge wholeheartedly: “Munster is first in terms of possession and, especially at home, proves to be a very solid side, full of experienced and talented players.

“For these reasons, we have raised the level of preparation during the week. We are very excited about the possible debut of [Samuele] Taddei, who has been working very well with us for weeks, and new arrival Josh Kaifa.”

The bookies have Munster as 27-point favourites and provided they apply themselves mentally and physically to the task, it should end in a comfortable win.

Munster: M Haley (Preston Grasshoppers); S O’Brien (Mullingar), A Frisch (Paris Université Club), A Nankivell (Christchurch Boys HS), S Daly (Highfield); T Butler (Ennis), C Casey (Shannon); J Wycherley (Bantry Bay), N Scannell (PBC Cork), J Ryan (Muskerry); T Ahern (Youghal), RG Snyman (Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool); R Quinn (Ballina-Killaloe), A Kendellen (PBC Cork, capt), G Coombes (Skibbereen). Replacements: E Clarke (CBC Monkstown), J Loughman (Athy), S Archer (Cork Constitution), F Wycherley (Bantry Bay), J O’Sullivan (Sunday’s Well), E Coughlan (Ennis), R Scannell (PBC Cork), B O’Connor (Highfield).

Zebre Parma: G Prisciantelli; S Gregory, L Morisi, D Mazza, S Gesi; T Eden, A Fusco; L Rizzoli, L Bigi, M Hasa; D Sisi, L Krumov; G Ferrari, B Stavile, G Licata (capt). Replacements: G Ribaldi, S Taddei, R Genovese, D de Leeuw, D Ruggeri, T Dominguez, J Trulla, J Kaifa.

Referee: A Jones (Wales)

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John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer