Murray’s return a boost with Munster eager to rebound from Cork defeat

RASSIE ERASMUS’ MUNSTER will attempt to return to winning ways this evening when they face the Dragons in a Guinness Pro12 clash at Rodney Parade [KO 5.15pm, Sky Sports 4].

The southern province were solid and promising on the opening weekend of the league when beating the Scarlets, but took a backwards step against Cardiff last time out. The Dragons, meanwhile, beat Zebre at home last weekend, after losing to Ulster in round one.

Keith Earls at 13

We thought we’d seen the last of this, and even Erasmus himself stated at the start of the season that he was eager to keep Keith Earls on the wing.

The Limerick man is back at outside centre. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Unfortunately for Munster, Francis Saili’s rehab from shoulder surgery will keep him out until 2017 and with Erasmus apparently not too keen to field an inexperienced centre pairing this weekend, Earls makes his first appearance of the season at 13.

That means a move to 12 for Dan Goggin, who has mixed flashes of quality with a handful errors in the early stages of the season, but whose physicality does look like it may be better suited to the inside centre role.

Earls’ return at 13 means Ronan O’Mahony and Darren Sweetnam, both in good form, retain their places out wide. The former Cork hurler has deservedly been sparking excitement among Munster fans, but ex-Castletroy College wing O’Mahony is also performing very impressively.

With Tyler Bleyendaal – the clear first-choice at 10 – returning from a calf strain and Andrew Conway having looked hungry in a try-scoring performance last weekend, this Munster backline is an exciting one.

Murray’s control

Conor Murray’s first appearance of the season comes as relief to Munster fans who have been frustrated by the consistency, or lack thereof, in the passing games of Duncan Williams and Tomás O’Leary.

Murray’s return is a major boost for Munster. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Both back-up scrum-halves offer real defensive strength and power around the fringes in attack, but Murray’s delivery is on another level.

While the Ireland international is perhaps more renowned for his own defensive prowess and an accurate kicking game, his passing has improved steadily under the tutelage of Greig Oliver at Munster in recent years.

Murray’s tactical awareness is also a strength for Munster and he will certainly assume a great degree of the playmaking responsibility in the nine shirt.

Erasmus will look for Munster to bring aggression in their tight play and Murray is well qualified to direct that. Simultaneously, the South African director of rugby is keen for his side to continue to progress with a more expansive phase-play attack and offloading game, meaning Murray’s passing should be useful.

A muscular pack

John Ryan’s form at tighthead has been one of the major positives for Munster in the opening fortnight of the campaign, with his handling ability impressing along with an ability to pin the scrum for the province.

Cork man Ryan is in fine form for Munster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The Cork man is part of a muscular-looking pack this evening, with CJ Stander and Jean Kleyn coming in at number eight and lock respectively.

It will be intriguing to see how Kleyn scrummages and hits rucks on his first start, with second row partner Donnacha Ryan therefore perhaps a little bit freer to use his energy and mobility on the ball.

Billy Holland shifts to the six jersey after making a fine start to the season in the engine room, and his work rate and technical skill at the set-piece should compensate for any lack of ball-carrying dynamism.

James Cronin, Stander and Jack O’Donoghue are the likely lads in that area, as Erasmus asks his side to rebound from a dispiriting defeat on home soil last weekend.


15. Andrew Conway
14. Darren Sweetnam
13. Keith Earls
12. Dan Goggin
11. Ronan O’Mahony
10. Tyler Bleyendaal
9. Conor Murray

1. James Cronin
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Donnacha Ryan
6. Billy Holland (captain)
7. Jack O’Donoghue
8. CJ Stander


16. Duncan Casey
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. Brian Scott
19. Dave O’Callaghan
20. Conor Oliver
21. Duncan Williams
22. Ian Keatley
23. Colm O’Shea


15. Carl Meyer
14. Pat Howard
13. Tyler Morgan
12. Jack Dixon
11. Hallam Amos
10. Nick Macleod
9. Sarel Pretorious

1. Sam Hobbs
2. Rhys Buckley
3. Brok Harris
4. Nick Crosswell
5. Rynard Landman
6. Lewis Evans (captain)
7. Ollie Griffiths
8. Ed Jackson


16. Darren Harris
17. Thomas Davies
18. Craig Mitchell
19. Cory Hill
20. James Thomas
21. Charlie Davies
22. Angus O’Brien
23. Adam Warren


Referee: Dudley Phillips [IRFU].

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