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Drivers

'This is their team' - Casey and Coombes lead the way for Munster progress

Johann van Graan’s side host the Stormers at Thomond Park tonight.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 2nd 2021, 10:05 AM

THE LAST TIME Keith Earls started a game at outside centre for Munster was all the way back on New Year’s Day in 2018 and it’s interesting to take a look at the matchday 23 that was beaten by Ulster on that occasion.

James Cronin, Darren O’Shea, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Alex Wootton, Sammy Arnold, Robin Copeland, James Hart, Bill Johnston, and Stephen Fitzgerald are no longer Munster players, although Simon Zebo is back after leaving that summer.

The Munster 23 that Earls is part of today against the Stormers in Thomond Park [KO 7.35pm, RTÉ2/Premier Sports] looks very different indeed.

There are plenty of familiar, experienced faces in the likes of Earls, captain Peter O’Mahony, Rory Scannell, and Dave Kilcoyne but this is a Munster squad that has morphed in recent times.

22-year-old Craig Casey and 23-year-old Gavin Coombes were the standout players in last weekend’s win over the Sharks and speaking post-match, O’Mahony pointed out that “this is their team.”

The average age of Munster’s senior squad this season is just under 26 and it is encouraging for fans to see homegrown talent like Coombes and Casey becoming what head coach Johann van Graan calls “drivers” within the group.

23-year-old tighthead prop Keynan Knox’s development continues tonight with a fifth start for the province after his impressive impact from the bench last weekend, while 23-year-old Diarmuid Barron and 22-year-old Ben Healy will add to their experience as replacements.

That said, van Graan certainly isn’t discarding more experienced players and appears to be intent on using this block of five consecutive URC games to build cohesion and confidence in his team before the autumn break.

jean-kleyn Jean Kleyn starts in the second row again tonight. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Out-half Joey Carbery, for example, is still growing his game after returning from long-term injury last season and will continue to work hard on the defensive aspects of his skillset.

Niall Scannell is determined to get back in the Ireland mix, with his more dynamic showing last weekend an encouraging sign in that regard. Jean Kleyn is another with further Test ambitions and was excellent for the province last season, while Jack O’Donoghue is a highly consistent performer too.

With a healthy degree of competition for places and impactful players like Chris Farrell and new signing Jason Jenkins still to return from injury, Munster’s squad does appear to be in a good place at the start of this 2021/22 campaign.

There was an understandable level of rust even as they beat the Sharks 42-17 last weekend and van Graan is keen to see a more clinical edge against the Stormers, who are coming off a defeat to Benetton in Italy.

Stormers boss John Dobson, who was in the mix for the Connacht gig before Andy Friend took over, was frustrated to give up an 18-7 lead in the second half in Treviso and he will be aware that the challenge is going to move up another gear in Limerick.

The Stormers’ defensive system is aggressive to the point of being all-or-nothing,  there is back-three threat from Warrick Gelant and Sergeal Petersen, and Nama Xaba is a breakdown danger, but Munster should have too much for their South African visitors. 

Munster:

  • 15. Mike Haley
  • 14. Calvin Nash
  • 13. Keith Earls
  • 12. Rory Scannell
  • 11. Shane Daly
  • 10. Joey Carbery
  • 9. Craig Casey
  • 1. Dave Kilcoyne
  • 2. Niall Scannell
  • 3. Keynan Knox
  • 4. Jean Kleyn
  • 5. Fineen Wycherley
  • 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
  • 7. Jack O’Donoghue
  • 8. Gavin Coombes

Replacements:

  • 16. Diarmuid Barron
  • 17. Jeremy Loughman
  • 18. Stephen Archer
  • 19. RG Snyman
  • 20. Jack O’Sullivan
  • 21. Rowan Osborne
  • 22. Ben Healy
  • 23. Simon Zebo

Stormers:

  • 15. Warrick Gelant
  • 14. Sergeal Petersen
  • 13. Ruhan Nel
  • 12. Dan du Plessis
  • 11. Leolin Zas
  • 10. Manie Libbok
  • 9. Stefan Ungerer
  • 1. Brok Harris
  • 2. Scarra Ntubeni
  • 3. Neethling Fouche
  • 4. Adre Smith
  • 5. Salmaan Moerat
  • 6. Nama Xaba
  • 7. Willie Engelbrecht
  • 8. Evan Roos

Replacements

  • 16. Andre-Hugo Venter
  • 17. Leon Lyons
  • 18. Sazi Sandi
  • 19. Ernst van Rhyn
  • 20. Marcel Theunissen
  • 21. Godlen Masimla
  • 22. Tim Swiel
  • 23. Rikus Pretorius

Referee: Andrew Brace [IRFU].

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