Primary objective for wounded Munster will be to bring back a tie

Peter O’Mahony, Joey Carbery, Coombes, Kilcoyne and Tadhg Beirne all miss out

Champions Cup: Exeter vs Munster, Saturday April 9th, Sandy Park (5.30pm kick-off, live on BT Sport)

There’s a temptation to suggest that if it wasn’t for bad luck Munster would have none. The last thing they needed in attempting to divest themselves of the disappointment of last week’s performance and result were a couple of high profile injuries.

Munster will be without captain Peter O'Mahony and outhalf Joey Carbery for their Heineken Champions Cup match as they join Gavin Coombes, Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Beirne on the absentee list.

In the old days, the scent of adversity would have been sufficient to fire Munster synapses, but this is a different time, entrusted to a younger generation. The primary objective will be to bring back a tie, if not in rude health, then one with a competitive pulse to their Limerick citadel next week.

O’Mahony suffered a hamstring injury the extent of which will be reassessed on Monday to see if he will be fit for the second leg. Carbery picked up a low-grade knee issue and is expected to train fully from the start of next week. Coombes underwent surgery for the ankle injury that he sustained in the defeat to Leinster.


Jack O’Donoghue, who missed last weekend’s game returns and will captain the side in a new backrow that includes the gifted duo of John Hodnett and former Ireland Under-20 captain Alex Kendellen.

Cutting edge

Mike Haley has recovered from injury, Simon Zebo passed the return to play protocols following concussion while Keith Earls is promoted to the starting team, providing quality, experience and if given some scope a cutting edge. Ben Healy, a catalyst for Munster’s sole try in the Leinster match, will wear the number 10 jersey.

Jean Kleyn has also recovered from injury and partners Fineen Wycherley in the secondrow with Jason Jenkins dropping to the bench. Thomas Ahern is in line to make his European debut having been included amongst the replacements.

Rory Scannell is promoted to the matchday 23 as is Jack O’Sullivan, the latter’s presence means that head coach Johann van Graan has opted for a six/two split on the bench. There’s no doubt that it represents a gamble given the number of backs returning from injury; they could ill afford to lose a wing early on.

The team isn't short of ability and if the young players can bring dynamism to supplement their talent, then the Irish province should be able to push the outcome right up to the final whistle

The Exeter Chiefs have made several changes from the side that eventually walloped Bath 42-22, a score-line that had a coat of gloss applied with a late scoring surge. England international Henry Slade is named at outside centre alongside Irish born Ian Whitten, in the only alteration to the backline.

Up front another English international Harry Williams is promoted to the starting tighthead role, Sam Skinner shifts from number eight to partner Scotland's Jonny Gray in the secondrow, while the Lions and England try scoring machine Sam Simmonds freshens up last week's backrow.

Exeter's director of rugby Rob Baxter said: "We're up against Munster, one of the traditional powerhouse teams when it comes to the Heineken Cup, so it should be a fantastic match. Both games are going to be huge occasions, but when I look at the whole draw of the competition, I think the second legs are going to be amazing.

“The focus this week is purely on making sure we produce a performance that puts us in good stead for the following week. Whenever you play Irish sides, you know you will be challenged in all areas, it’s one of their strengths.

“Games between the two clubs have always been tight, sometimes coming down to goal kicking, and I’ve no doubt this could be the same.”


It’s the correct tone to strike but perhaps less applicable when considering Munster’s injury issues and indeed form of late. Exeter too are missing four internationals in Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill, Ollie Devoto and Jack Nowell but they will have gleaned momentum and confidence from last week’s second half display.

The preoccupation for Munster this evening is to address and focus upon the aspects of the game that let them down against Leinster, being more accurate at the set piece and given the skillset of their young backrow going after the hosts at the breakdown. They have to be more clear-eyed and precise when using possession.

The team isn’t short of ability and if the young players can bring dynamism to supplement their talent, then the Irish province should be able to push the outcome right up to the final whistle. Courage and belief will be important characteristics; Munster will have to go and win this match as opposed to trying not to lose.

Exeter Chiefs: S Hogg; O Woodburn, H Slade, I Whitten, T O'Flaherty; J Simmonds, S Maunder; A Hepburn, J Yeandle (capt), H Williams; J Gray, S Skinner; D Ewers, J Vermeulen, S Simmonds. Replacements: J Innard, B Moon, P Schickerling, J Kirsten, R Capstick, J Maunder, H Skinner, J Hodge.

Munster: M Haley; K Earls, C Farrell, D de Allende, S Zebo; B Healy, C Murray; J Loughman, N Scannell, S Archer; J Kleyn, F Wycherley; J O'Donoghue, J Hodnett, A Kendellen. Replacements: D Barron, J Wycherley, J Ryan, J Jenkins, T Ahern, C Casey, R Scannell, J O'Sullivan.

Referee: Pierre Brousset (France).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer