Written by Conal Lane
Come the day, Come the hour, Come the Six Nations and the annual test of provincial squad depth, this week more so due to a rescheduled fixture.
A healthy (unlucky?) 13 Munster representatives in the Ireland squad this year, for the opening two rounds of the Six Nations means a debut & first start for academy boy Calvin Nash, plus plenty of returning players. No doubt, as players are deemed surplus to requirements in green, some more familiar faces will line out for the men in red but this week sees a much changed lineup with only Jean Kleyn retaining his place in the pack.
Munster went three wins from three through January, cementing their place as second seeds in the European Cup & a tasty home quarter final against Toulouse. Two home and two away fixtures in the next four weeks for the men in red, with Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium looking like the only acid test. Edinburgh also come into this fixture with three wins from their last three fixtures, albeit against slightly poorer opposition. The only win worth shouting about realistically is an excellent 23-18 triumph over Harlequins in the Challenge Cup, though this was sandwiched between wins over Zebre & Romanian outfit Timisoara Saracen – neither being world beaters, in fairness. Edinburgh play three of the four Irish provinces in the next three weekends, with this fixture being the only one at Myreside.
Edinburgh: John Hardie, Rory Scholes
Not exactly a routine match on return from injury for openside John Hardie, though given the tenacity of the New Zealand born Scotland international I should imagine he would much rather be lining out for his adopted nation this Saturday. A serious contender for the Lions tour this summer, the abrasive back rower is an old school number 7. Short, stout and nigh on impossible to shift off the ball once he gets an arm around it, I would be most surprised if he does not play at least some part in Scotland’s Six Nations exploits this year.
A quick glance at Rory Scholes would tempt you to draw comparison with his footballing namesake Paul. However the comparison begins & ends with both Scholes’ shock of ginger hair. The former Ulsterman uprooted to the Scottish capital ahead of this season, why not says I, at 23 his best years are still ahead and he could end up turning a JJ Hanrahan and returning after a couple of years. Scholes notched up an impressive nine caps for the Ireland Under 20’s side during 2013, scoring six tries and a single penalty. He will renew acquaintances with another U20 from that year (Rory Scannell) this Friday eve.
Munster: Conor Oliver, Kevin O’Byrne
Now in his second academy year, Conor Oliver is cut from the same cloth of his opposing 7 this Friday night, save for one factor, pace. The speed of the 21 year old is something special to behold, more akin to a winger than a loose forward it enables Oliver to put extreme pressure on the opposition fly-half come scrum time. Possibly a tad lightweight at just 96kg but given the boys age & growth potential, don’t be surprised to see a bulkier Connr version 2.0 in the next season or so.
UL Bohs clubman Kevin O’Byrne makes a most welcome return from injury this weekend, and bang on time with Niall Scannell called up for Ireland, Duncan Casey injured & poor Mike Sherry seemingly sidelined for the entire season. O’Byrne is following the lead of a Jerry Flannery type hooker. A couple of kg’s lighter than his contemporaries but extremely dynamic around the park & more than willing to carry & tackle like a back rower. Should hopefully see 20 plus minutes of action this weekend & will look to at least share starting duties with Rhys Marshall over the coming weeks.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn; Damian Hoyland, Chris Dean, Phil Burleigh, Tom Brown; Jason Tovey, Sean Kennedy; Jack Cosgrove, Neil Cochrane (Capt), Murray McCallum; Fraser McKenzie, Ben Toolis; Magnus Bradbury, John Hardie, Cornell Du Preez.
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Derrick Appiah, Nick Beavon, Lewis Carmichael, Viliame Mata, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Michael Allen, Rory Scholes
Munster: Jaco Taute; Calvin Nash, Francis Saili, Dan Goggin; Ronan O’Mahony; Tyler Bleyendaal (Capt), Duncan Williams; Peter McCabe, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Dave Foley; Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Darren O’Shea, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Angus Lloyd, Rory Scannell.
Munster have not lost a PRO12 game since early October & indeed have lost just one of their last dozen in all competitions. Contrastingly, Edinburgh have a speckled WWWLLWLL record over the last few weeks. Though shorn of plenty of Irish Internationals, Munster will just be that little bit too strong.
Verdict: Munster by 10
N.B. Congratulations to Niall Scannell on his inclusion in the Ireland 23 to face Scotland this Saturday.