Ryan Hiscott/INPHO Munster's Joey Carbery.
# pro14
Carbery has chance to prove he can still play a major part in Munster's season
The outhalf starts his first game in 14 months when the province host Scarlets tonight.

JOEY CARBERY COULD be about to seriously test Johann van Graan’s resolve. 

The out-half will wear the Munster No 10 shirt for the first time in 14 long months this evening when Scarlets visit Thomond Park (KO 8pm, TG4, Eir Sport 1).

Recent history between the two teams only points towards one outcome. Munster haven’t lost to any Welsh opposition since a defeat away to Scarlets two years ago. Scarlets have only won once at Thomond Park (2017) in the last 18 years. 

None of that really applies, of course, as the result of this game carries less importance than usual for Munster, who are already guaranteed to top Conference B. Sure, a win would be gladly received – a performance even more so – but Munster would be just as happy to come through this game and next week’s meeting with Benetton with a fit and healthy squad.

March 27, Munster v Leinster, Pro14 final. A chance to win a first trophy in 10 years. One week later, Toulouse come to Limerick for the Champions Cup round of 16.

Munster have invested heavily in their squad and coaching ticket in recent years, with the simple aim of winning games like those mentioned above. 

It is not yet clear how the province will balance team selections across those two fixtures, with roughly half of their usual first-choice starting 15 tied up with the Ireland squad until the week of that Leinster game.

Munster say they will pick on form, rather than reputation, and that message will surely be ringing in the ears of many of those selected to take the pitch tonight. 

They play a Scarlets team who have made three changes from the win over Edinburgh last time out, the most notable of which sees Aaron Shingler make his first appearance for the club since February of last year following a health issue.

Elsewhere Angus O’Brien replaces Dan Jones at out-half, while Steff Thomas wins a first Pro14 start at loosehead.

Munster have made seven changes to the team that beat Connacht last weekend.

Calvin Nash, Damian de Allende, JJ Hanrahan, Nick McCarthy, Jean Kleyn and Jack O’Sullivan all come back into side, but all eyes will be on Carbery.

The province have repeatedly said they will take extreme caution with reintroducing him to action, but after encouraging cameos off the bench against Cardiff and Connacht, the decision to start him tonight is with one eye on those bigger tests down the line.

If he can deliver another promising performance against Scarlets and come through without any setbacks, then there will surely be a temptation to allow him continue in the No 10 shirt. Munster aren’t getting minutes under his belt now just to leave him watching on from the bench in a few weeks time.

Starting him ahead of those who have been soldiering with the province in his absence, and got them to this point, would be a major call and could look cold, but you have to pick your best players to win the big games, and a fit Carbery is Munster’s best out-half.

The biggest games of Munster’s season still lie ahead of them, so Carbery could yet have a major part to play in this campaign.

That’s not to say he is the only story, as the selection of JJ Hanrahan at inside centre adds another layer of intrigue. Hanrahan hasn’t started at 12 for Munster since 2015, so it will be interesting to see how his partnership with De Allende changes Munster’s dynamic at midfield.

A talented backline which includes Shane Daly, released from the Ireland squad this week, and the in-form Mike Haley should get plenty of ball behind a strong Munster pack.

“There will be a challenge obviously over the next couple of weeks, and we’re definitely looking for guys to earn their spot in the final,” said Munster attack coach, Stephen Larkham.

“We’ve got guys coming back from Six Nations, some guys didn’t travel up to the national camp this week, some other guys are coming back next week, so there’s going to be that rotation of players in and out between us and the national squad that is very difficult to manage.

“But we’re looking for not only game performance, but training performance, how well they recover, and we’ll take all of that into consideration for the team that we eventually pick for the (Pro14) final.”

The stage is yours, Joey. 

Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Damian de Allende, JJ Hanrahan, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery, Nick McCarthy; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland (C); Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Sullivan, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Thomas Ahern, Alex Kendellen, Paddy Patterson, Jack Crowley, Darren Sweetnam.

Scarlets: Johnny McNicholl; Tom Prydie, Tyler Morgan, Steff Hughes (captain), Steff Evans; Angus O’Brien, Dane Blacker; Steffan Thomas, Marc Jones, Pieter Scholtz; Morgan Jones, Sam Lousi; Aaron Shingler, Jac Morgan, Sione Kalamafoni.

Replacements: Taylor Davies, Kemsley Mathias, Alex Jeffries, Tevita Ratuva, Uzair Cassiem, Will Homer, Paul Asquith, Johnny Williams. 

Gavan Casey, Bernard Jackman, and Murray Kinsella discuss CVC’s share in the Six Nations, TV rights, Ireland’s trip to Edinburgh, and last weekend’s inter-pros:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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