Opportunity knocks for Hanrahan and Munster
Hosts have physicality to meet Edinburgh head on plus greater variety in attack Zebo returns at fullback for his final appearance at Thomond before transfer
Semi-final play-off Munster v Edinburgh Thomond Park, 3.15pm Live on Sky Sports, TG4, BBC Alba If Munster are to ease their latest dose of European blues, much of the motivation is going to have to come from within. In contrast to the 27,000 capacity crowd which played such a key role in their Champions Cup quarter-final win over Toulon, as of yesterday only 8,700 tickets had been sold for this quarter-final.
With the game only having been confirmed a week ago, it also clashes with a number of other events, not least the belated arrival of summer on the May bank holiday weekend.
This is also a traditional family weekend in Limerick, with the annual Riverfest set to draw over 85,000 to the banks of the Shannon for various water-based activities, celebrations of food and fashion, outdoor and indoor concerts, and the Bon Secours Hospital Great Limerick Run.
Up against all of that, a first Guinness Pro14 ‘semi-final play-off’ is a hard sell, especially, one imagines, in the wake of another deflating European Champions Cup semi-final defeat in Bordeaux a fortnight ago. Conceivably, as many members of the Red Army will have made their way to the Stade Chaban Delmas as will be in Thomond Park.
Having given most of their front-liners a respite last week, Johann van Graan has made a dozen changes from the starting line-up from the creditable 24-all draw at home to Ulster but the most interesting is one of the three players retained. In addition to centre Sammy Arnold and loose-head James Cronin, man of the match last week JJ Hanrahan holds onto the outhalf position ahead of Ian Keatley.
So opportunity finally knocks for the 24-year-old Kerryman in his preferred position. Although this is his 83rd game for his native province, it’s the most significant chance he’s been afforded at outhalf in his Munster career.
Allowing for concerns about his game management, which he freely acknowledges, Hanrahan has also been a victim of his own versatility. Of his previous 82 games for Munster, 22 have been at outhalf, seven at inside centre and eight at fullback, with 45 off the bench.
Hanrahan, therefore, is in effect one of four changes to the starting line-up from the Racing defeat. Simon Zebo, curiously confined to a second-half appearance in Bordeaux, returns at fullback on what will be his final appearance at Thomond Park before relocating to Racing.
Andrew Conway thus shifts to the wing and Keith Earls moves across to the left-wing.
In addition to Cronin being named ahead of David Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall (another surprisingly relegated to the bench against Racing) is restored.
Edinburgh are the form team in the competition. Last week’s fine win over Glasgow to seal the 1972 Cup at Murrayfield was their eighth in their last nine Pro14 games.
Under Richard Cockerill, Edinburgh have become a confrontational, direct, low frills side, who seek to win the collisions and generate quick ball before eventually going wide. Sam Hidalgo-Klyne also gives them a deadly kicking game from the base.
While the Thomond Park factor will seemingly be more negligible than usual, Munster have the physicality to meet this Edinburgh challenge head on across the gain line, and the greater variety in attack to get them over the line. MUNSTER: SimonZe bo; Andrew Conway, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scan nell, Keith E ar ls;JJ Han rah an, Con or Murray; James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’ Ma hony(c apt ), Jack O’ Donoghue,CJ Stander. Replacements: Mike Sherry, Dave Kil co yne,C ia ran Parker, Ger brand tG rob ler,Ro bin Copeland, James Hart, IanKe at ley, Darren Sweet nam. EDINBURGH: Blair King horn; Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean, Du han van der Mer we; J ac ova nd er Walt, Sam Hid al go-Cl y ne; Jordan Lay, StuartMc In ally, (Ca pt ), Simon Berg han; Ben Tool is, Grant Gilchrist; Ma gnus Brad bury, Jamie Ritchie, Bill Mat a. Replacements: Neil Co ch ra ne; Allan Dell; WP N el; Lewis Car michael; Cornell du Preez; Nathan Fowl es; Duncan We ir; JamesJohnstone. Referee: Nigel Owens( W RU ). Forecast: Munster to win.