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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Cathal Noonan/INPHO Simon Zebo and JJ Hanrahan during training in Limerick this week.
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Munster looking to ramp up against Treviso as Leinster derby looms
Rob Penney says his men are looking forward to a hectic schedule with the inter-pro clash and a Heineken Cup quarter-final to come.

THE FACT THAT Paul O’Connell has decided to play for Munster this evening against Treviso at Thomond Park says much about his dedication to the province, but it also highlights the challenges that await in coming weeks.

Beating the Italians at home this evening is the clear and immediate focus, but the clash away to Leinster on the 29th of March, and then the home Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse on the 5th of April loom large in the background.

Head coach Rob Penney is excited about what lies ahead.

“It’s an amazing six or eight weeks now,” the Kiwi told Munster Rugby. “It’s the culmination of all the work that’s been put together in the last six or seven months.

There will be only two teams in a position to contest a final and there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge yet. We’re desperately keen to be one of those teams in the competitions but there’s a lot of work to be done yet.”

Indeed there is, and bringing key men O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray back into the mix as comfortably as possible is an essential aspect of that. The 34-year-old lock has certainly made the process easier be announcing himself available for tonight’s clash.

Beyond those Irish international front-liners, the return of Keith Earls is of real interest for Munster fans, with the hope that the 26-year-old can return to full fitness as rapidly as possible and find his excellent form of earlier in the season.

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Damian Varley faces a similar challenge, while James Cronin will hope to do enough to move ahead of Dave Kilcoyne in the battle for the number one shirt. Johne Murphy will feel he can impress out wide to earn his place in the Heineken Cup XV, while JJ Hanrahan is hoping to do the same at out-half.

A clash with Treviso might not always be the most exciting of fixtures, but there is much riding on this one for Munster from a team point of view and for the individuals involved.

Kick-off at Thomond Park this evening is at 7.15pm, while the game will be screened live on TG4.

Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Johne Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Damien Varley (Capt.), John Ryan; Billy Holland, Paul O’Connell; Donnacha Ryan, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler.

Replacements: Quentin MacDonald, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Gerry Hurley, Ian Keatley, Simon Zebo.

Treviso: Angelo Esposito; Christian Loamanu, Michele Campagnaro, Alberto Sgarbi, Ludovico Nitoglia; Mat Berquist, Edoardo Gori; Alberto De Marchi, Giovanni Maistri, Lorenzo Cittadini; Antonio Pavanello (capt.), Valerio Bernabò; Manoa Vosawai, Marco Filippucci, Robert Barbieri.

Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Matteo Muccignat, Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, Marco Fuser, Corniel Van Zyl, Luke McLean, Tobias Botes, James Ambrosini.

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