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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 27 February 2021
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Munster can offer Andy Farrell food for thought in Edinburgh

The southern province have plenty of men with a point to prove after not featuring for Ireland.

Craig Casey in training with Munster this week.
Craig Casey in training with Munster this week.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

MOST INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS would, given a straight choice, prefer not to be among the cohort released from a squad mid-tournament and sent in search of game-time.

Though it’s best practice to allow the players who have been starting on consecutive Test weekends some recovery time, it’s easy for the raft cut adrift for the week to consider themselves outsiders for the run-up to the next international.

All bar one of the men given provincial leave for this weekend made it onto the field for Ireland’s back-to-back Six Nations defeats; Ross Byrne backing up his 38 minutes at 10 against France with an hour in the centre against the Dragons.

Those on show today will be intent on making an impression on Andy Farrell in competitive action that they didn’t manage in a training format. Munster arguably have the strongest candidates for a berth in Farrell’s 23 for Italy when they face a doughty Edinburgh side in Murrayfield tonight (19.35, TG4).

Let’s begin with the man who came the closest to making it on the field over the past fortnight. Craig Casey was left in the unfortunate position of being an unnused replacement in the loss to France. It’s an unusual situation in modern rugby, where the importance of the 23 is reinforced week after week by coaches, but Casey can count himself unlucky to be left waiting on his first Test cap.

Had Ireland been leading by a narrow margin rather than trailing, you sense Casey would have been trusted to help close the deal. But Jamison Gibson-Park (though not error-free) seemed as likely a candidate as any to help crack open the French defence in the closing minutes.

Andrew Conway will wear Munster red for the first time in over two months this evening and, as ever, his task on the international stage is the difficult one of ousting Keith Earls.

Earls’ form over the opening Six Nations rounds was well off his normal standards and Conway will hope to earn a nod for Rome,. However, he will be looking over his shoulder, or even across his back three tonight at Shane Daly and Mike Haley – though Hugo Keenan is quickly sewing up the fullback position for Ireland.

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Haley nor tonight’s number 8 Gavin Coombes were among the Munster quartet released from Ireland camp this week. Coombes’ departure from Carton House last week came as a shock as it came hand in hand with Peter O’Mahony’s suspension and the Skibbereen man had been a shining light of Munster’s early season.  Another big night this evening could well force Andy Farrell into re-thinking is back row pecking order.

Last, but perhaps the most athletic of all is Chris Farrell. A fit and well Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are tough to look beyond for a coach, but as Ireland’s attack mis-fired and lapsed into old prescriptive habits, there ought to be no fear about shuffling the centres around against Italy.

Particularly if Andy Farrell is serious about underlining his call for players to be willing to play off script with adventure. The offloading skill-set of Farrell and, say, Bundee Aki could add a hell of a lot of options and open angles for an attack that looked short on ideas.

Edinburgh: Damien Hoyland, Jack Blain, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean, Eroni Sau, Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos, Pierre Schoeman, David Cherry, Lee-Roy Atalifo, Andrew Davidson, Grant Gilchrist (Capt), Nick Haining, Luke Crosbie, Viliame Mata.

ReplacementsMike Willemse, Boan Venter, Murray McCallum, Magnus Bradbury, Ally Miller, Charlie Shiel, Nathan Chamberlain, Matt Currie.

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan, Craig Casey; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland (Capt); Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Sullivan, Nick McCarthy, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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