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Munster's young guns show their promise in pre-season success

Number eight Gavin Coombes and back row Jack Daly were among those to impress.

WHILE IRELAND INTERNATIONAL wing Darren Sweetnam was the star of the show and experienced captain Tommy O’Donnell impressed, Munster’s win over London Irish last night was also notable for the manner in which a number of the province’s younger players stood up.

Pre-season games might seem meaningless to critics – or purely about players getting their fitness levels up – but for emerging prospects, these fixtures are a big deal.

Munster's Gavin Coombes Gavin Coombes did well for Munster. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

A chance to convince their coach that they deserve a shot in the early rounds of the Pro14, a first opportunity to wear a senior Munster jersey – several promising youngsters did those things at Musgrave Park.

On what was a good night for West Cork, 20-year-old Gavin Coombes – moving into Year 3 of the academy – was a powerful presence at number eight for Munster.

The Skibbereen RFC product, who has shone in the AIL with Young Munster, is a large physical specimen and Munster head coach Johann van Graan was pleased with his impact in contact, defensively and with the ball.

The back row was joined on the pitch by his cousin, Liam Coombes, in the second half, as the Garryowen wing got 40 minutes of game time and contributed several exciting touches on what was his first senior appearance for Munster.

Year 3 academy centre Shane Daly was another to show well off the bench, having spent last season impressing for Ireland 7s. The Cork Con midfielder came on at half-time and was replaced by club-mate Alex McHenry, now moving into second year of the academy, in the final 10 minutes.

Munster's Liam Coombes Centre Shane Daly has some nice touches after coming off the bench. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Tipp native Sean O’Connor, a Year 3 academy player, made an impression in his 27-minute stint off the bench. Also at home in the second row, the 21-year-old Garryowen man showed his lineout skills and work rate from the blindside flank.

Flanker Jack Daly, with his head shaved, is only in Year 1 of Munster’s academy set-up, but he was another to make his point off the bench against London Irish.

A product of Castleisland RFC like JJ Hanrahan, the Kerryman powers around the pitch using his low centre of gravity to good effect. He was strong at maul time and showed constant aggression in his involvements over the final 30 minutes of the game.

Scrum-half Jack Stafford, who made his Pro14 debut last season, was another to get game time in Cork, even if only 20 minutes before new Munster signing Neil Cronin replaced him in the second half.

Munster's Jack Stafford Academy scrum-half Jack Stafford got a run off the bench. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Fineen Wycherley, now on a senior contract but still only 20, was busy throughout for Munster, while 21-year-old wing Calvin Nash showed his athleticism in limited opportunities with ball in hand.

Fullback Stephen Fitzgerald, still only 22, made some errors that will have frustrated him but also demonstrated his elusive running ability at other times.

Many of these young players will hope that next Friday’s second pre-season friendly against Exeter Chiefs at Musgrave Park will provide another chance to impress and launch them towards Pro14 caps in the early rounds of the new campaign.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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