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

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - GERRY THORNLEY Rugby Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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