Munster: Who can step in for injury-hit province as they prepare for daunting semi-final against Leinster
Munster will take on arch-rivals Leinster for a place in the United Rugby Championship final this weekend, but they will likely have to do it with a severely depleted squad.
Graham Rowntree’s men overcame Glasgow Warriors 14-5 at Scotstoun on Saturday, but it came at a cost after several players went off injured.
It wasn’t just the quantity but also the quality that had to leave the field. As a result, they could be without RG Snyman, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Malakai Fekitoa, Diarmuid Barron and Calvin Nash for their Irish derby.
We therefore delve into who may replace those six should they be unavailable and what their 23 could look like when they face Leinster.
Niall Scannell for Diarmuid Barron
The Ireland hooker’s return from injury has been timely for Munster after the talented Barron sustained a shoulder issue against Glasgow Warriors. The 24-year-old has not been ruled out of the clash just yet but, should he be unavailable, then Scannell will come into the XV.
Capped 20 times by the national team, he is incredibly reliable and will do a fine job alongside Jeremy Loughman and Stephen Archer in the front-row. Solid at the set-piece and mobile around the park, Scannell remains an excellent player for the Munstermen.
Jack O’Donoghue for RG Snyman
The gargantuan South African just can’t catch a break at the moment and was one of the quartet to sustain a head injury against Glasgow, thus ruling him out of the semi-final. Snyman’s presence and the form of Jean Kleyn meant that the returning Tadhg Beirne started at blindside, but the Springbok’s absence will force a reshuffle in the back five.
Rowntree could decide to bring Fineen Wycherley into the XV if he wants to keep Beirne in the back-row, but we think the inclusion of O’Donoghue will provide better balance. The 29-year-old has found himself out of favour recently, but he is excellent aerially and one of the best maul destroyers around.
Alex Kendellen for Peter O’Mahony
O’Donoghue’s presence also slightly offsets the potential loss of O’Mahony, who suffered an elbow problem in Saturday’s URC triumph. It means that Rowntree can bring in a more ‘natural’ openside without losing too much at the lineout, and Kendellen fits the bill perfectly.
Strong over the ball but also physically imposing around the park, the 22-year-old has generally been preferred to John Hodnett over recent times. Although Hodnett is better over the ball, Kendellen is a bigger unit and more physical in the tighter exchanges, which is crucial as they seek to disrupt a clinical Leinster side.
Craig Casey for Conor Murray
An obvious choice here, especially with Paddy Patterson also out of action. Casey was first choice for the first half of the campaign, but Murray’s efforts for Ireland helped him usurp his younger team-mate and win back his provincial place – a rare case that a player has used Test rugby to return to form.
The elder statesman provides slightly more control, but Casey is a bigger threat around the fringes, while his kicking has improved significantly. There isn’t much difference between him and Murray, but he will have to do most of the heavy lifting this weekend following the injuries to Patterson and the 34-year-old.
Ben Healy for Malakai Fekitoa
Rory Scannell could well come into midfield but, with Jack Crowley’s ability to feature at centre, Rowntree is more likely to opt for the dual playmaker axis with Healy starting at fly-half. To beat Leinster, you need to score tries, and this partnership quite frankly gives them more chance to do that.
The now-Scotland international is leaving Munster at the end of the campaign and he will be determined to go out on a high. Although the loss of Fekitoa, who has played well recently following an indifferent season, is significant, Healy and Crowley will form an exciting duo.
Simon Zebo for Calvin Nash
Nash’s concussion has added to their lengthy injury list in the back three, which also includes Andrew Conway, Liam Coombes and Keith Earls. To some degree, Zebo is the last man standing, but it equally shows how much depth Munster have in this position.
The former Ireland international is certainly not the player he once was, but the 33-year-old has always been a big game player and thrives in these sorts of encounters. Zebo is very much out of favour, but he is their only out-and-out wing left and should come into the side.
Planet Rugby’s Munster team to face Leinster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Simon Zebo, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Jack Crowley, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Alex Kendellen, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Jean Kleyn, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman
Replacements: 16 Scott Buckley, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Roman Salanoa, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Thomas Ahern, 21 John Hodnett, 22 Neil Cronin, 23 Joey Carbery
READ MORE: Munster count injury cost of ‘tough’ win over Glasgow Warriors in the quarter-finals
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