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Munster send West Cork crew to work in first Monday Night Rugby outing

Craig Casey and Ben Healy continue as the halfbacks for the clash with Cardiff Blues.

Rosscarbery man John Hodnett starts at openside flanker.
Rosscarbery man John Hodnett starts at openside flanker.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

AFTER A WEEKEND of very enjoyable rugby, the fun rolls on this evening as Munster host Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park [KO 8.15pm, eir Sport/TG4] in the first Monday Night Rugby clash in the Guinness Pro14.

It’s a new venture for the Pro14 and the hope is to get more eyeballs on the competition at a time of the season when Test rugby tends to hog the attention. There will be 14 Monday night fixtures in total between now and the end of November.

Munster’s clash with the Blues is interesting for more than the scheduling, with Johann van Graan backing 21-year-old pair Craig Casey and Ben Healy to continue their promising halfback pairing as Munster aim for a third consecutive win to start the season.  

The Munster boss is also sending his young West Cork crew – the ‘West Cork Mafia’ as some of the province’s fans call them – into action at Thomond Park.

Dunmanway RFC and Bandon Grammar product Darren Sweetnam has been a trailblazer in this regard, playing inter-county hurling for Cork before opting to pursue professional rugby and earning Ireland caps. Still only 27, Sweetnam is looking to reignite his career after injuries and seemingly falling out of favour with van Graan. 

Sweetnam has been an inspiration to the ever-improving West Cork pipeline, as some of his fellow starters this evening have pointed out.

22-year-old Bantry Bay RFC product Fineen Wycherley, who recently trained with Andy Farrell’s Ireland and starts in Munster’s second row this evening, explained it earlier this year:

“Having Sweets playing for Ireland, someone from a small town in West Cork like Dunmanway, seeing a local hero doing well and playing for Munster and Ireland makes a difference. 

gavin-coombes Gavin Coombes has been in excellent form recently. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Gavin and Liam Coombes, people see them playing well for Munster and it spurs them on.

“When I was younger, there were very few lads who stuck with the sport. You’d maybe play rugby to a certain age and then GAA would become everything. It’s almost the other way around now – a lot of lads are playing GAA up to 15 or 16 and then focusing on rugby. That’s a massive change in West Cork because GAA, football particularly, is so big.”

The aforementioned Gavin Coombes starts at number eight for Munster today, with the 22-year-old Skibbereen RFC man in flying form at present.

Alongside him at openside flanker is the exciting 21-year-old John Hodnett, a Rosscarbery man who came through with Clonakilty RFC. The dynamic flanker appears to have a big future in professional rugby.

On the Munster bench for this Cardiff clash is academy loosehead prop Josh Wycherley, Fineen’s 21-year-old brother, who is set for his senior debut. Another proud Bantry man, Josh was superb for the Ireland U20s as they won a Grand Slam last year.

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Beyond today’s matchday squad, there is more West Cork talent. Academy out-half Jack Crowley is a Bandon RFC and Bandon Grammar product, wing Liam Coombes is a Skibbereen flyer, there’s another academy loosehead in Bandon’s James French, while academy hooker Scott Buckley is from Kinsale.

Those involved tonight will be looking to make an impact and it’s likely there is more to come from West Cork.

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Calvin Nash
13. Dan Goggin
12. Rory Scannell
11. Darren Sweetnam
10. Ben Healy
9. Craig Casey

1. James Cronin
2. Kevin O’Byrne
3. Stephen Archer
4. Fineen Wycherley
5. Billy Holland (captain)
6. Jack O’Donoghue
7. John Hodnett
8. Gavin Coombes

Replacements:

16. Rhys Marshall
17. Josh Wycherley
18. Roman Salanoa
19. Jean Kleyn
20. Chris Cloete
21. Nick McCarthy
22. JJ Hanrahan
23. Damian de Allende

Cardiff Blues: 

15. Matthew Morgan
14. Aled Summerhill
13. Rey Lee-Lo
12. Willis Halaholo
11. Hallam Amos
10. Jarrod Evans
9. Lloyd Williams (captain)

1. Corey Domachowski
2. Kristian Dacey
3. Dmitri Arhip
4. Ben Murphy
5. Rory Thornton
6. James Ratti
7. James Botham
8. Olly Robinson

Replacements:

16. Ethan Lewis
17. Brady Thyer
18. Scott Andrews
19. Sam Moore
20. Alun Lawrence
21. Lewis Jones
22. Jason Tovey
23. Garyn Smith

Referee: Andrea Piardi [FIR].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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