Munster are back in action this evening in Thomond Park (19:00) as the men in red take on Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble. After a long pre-season, this will be the perfect break for the Munster lads and a huge opportunity for youngsters to break into the team.
Grenoble are a French side that finished 11th in the Top 14 last season. Since winning the Pro D2 in 2013, they have enjoyed two reasonably successful seasons in which they have claimed major scalps and have established themselves as worthy competitors in their prestigious top division. Much of their success is usually referred to the great job of Irishmen Bernard Jackman and former Munster scrumhalf Mike Prendergast who run the show with a limited squad in terms of French rugby. However, as a result of their great work, some big name signings such as Gio Aplon have been atrtracted to the team who will continue give them a push for the next couple of seasons
These additions should indeed come into play as they kick start their Top 14 campaign next weekend but gaining some momentum against Munster is sure to be the short-term focus.
This is the team that they have selected:
Barcella, Bouchet, Desmaison, Hand, Percival, Best, Diaby, Grice, McLeod, Wisniewski, Kilioni, Hunt, Estebanez, Mignot, Gengenbacher.
Subs: Coulson, Héguy, Edwards, Mary Kimlin, Alexander Loustalot, Gelin, Farrell, Willison, Batlle, Aplon.
Anthony Foley has selected an experimental side for tonight so it should be very interesting to check out which young guns can make an impact in the upcoming season when given the opportunity. The most notable feature of the team is that Kiwi Tyler Bleyendaal is included as he debuts after a year of battling a neck injury but there are equally as exciting homegrown talents on show also. Other members of the squad are more established but they were worthy of selection as they may be returning from injury or need a run-out to test themselves before the new season.
Johnston, Sweetnam, Bohane, D’Arcy, Van den Heever, Bleyendaal, Sheridan; Ryan, Scannell, Botha, Madigan, Foley, Buckley, Coghlan, Copeland
Strong Second Row Out to Impress
Ireland international Dave Foley and Munster academy bulldozer John Madigan have been selected to pair together in the engine room. Tonight’s friendly is going to be huge for both of them but for two varying reasons.
After a stellar year, Foley was unlucky with injury last season and was denied of possibly being part of Joe Schmidt’s World Cup plans as a result. The 26 year old is aggressive, physical and not far off of International quality but he has lost some considerable ground during his time sidelined meaning that the UL Bohemian now has a big task ahead of him even within the province if he wants to get consistent game time.
Since Foley’s last appearance, Donnacha Ryan has stepped back into the Irish set up, making him a very attractive option to Anthony Foley, while Australian veteran Mark Chisholm has also been added for his considerable experience and leadership. Games such as tonight’s against Grenoble are going to be crucial for Foley if he is start come cup time and he will without doubt be eager to impress.
His partner on the other hand may be unknown to many of you but is certainly one for the future. John Madigan of Dolphin RFC is only 19 years old and stands with a huge 6’6 and 19 stone frame, making him one of the most powerful youngsters in provincial rugby. In the aftermath of recovering from a string of injuries, Madigan is finally ready to play in front of a large crowd after missing out in the JWC over the summer and will have to do his all to live up to these ever spreading expectations.
The partnership is definitely going to be an exciting one to watch as both men are as abrasive as locks go. Selection chances are seriously up for grabs here as a potential return of Donnacha Ryan during the World Cup could keep them out of the first fifteen for the majority of the season. Thankfully for the duo, as things stand it looks like Ryan will remain in ‘camp Joe’ meaning that plenty of more chances should arise in the coming months if the Grenoble game doesn’t go quite to plan.
Fresh Start for Exciting Halfbacks
After a year of waiting, Tyler Bleyendaal comes into the team at long last but perhaps his halfback partner’s return after missing the majority of last season will feel just as rejuvenating for Foley’s men. Cathal Sheridan had a standout 2013/2014 season in which he started in the Heineken Cup in the absence of Conor Murray and would also go on to appear very regularly in the league under Rob Penney – creating tries and offering quick, accurate delivery. Unfortunately for the Sligo man, last season was interrupted by a niggly arm injury which gave Foley reason to only pick him sparsely with Duncan Williams being promoted to being the back-up for the world class Conor Murray instead. Following the signing of Tomas O’Leary, Sheridan will have an even tougher battle to make the bench but if he takes his chance tomorrow night and gets a good run of games, there’s no reason why he can’t achieve this. Later today, we hope to see him offer all of these mentioned qualities which should enable Bleyendaal to soar and enable himself to walk off thinking that Anthony Foley will have to have him as part of his plans for the upcoming campaign.
It is definitely a good chance for Cathal Sheridan but there’s no question that the spotlight will really be on the debutant at ten, Tyler Bleyendaal. The new kid on the block has shown great skill, decision making and communication in his B&I Cup games at the tail end of last season but the former Crusader has also shown inconsistency with the boot in years gone by, something that we hope he can address in the Thomond Park silence. He has said that “he cannot wait” to play in the famous ground and neither can we wait to watch him. This signing is either going to be a disaster or one that proves to be very intelligent and reassuring in a position which Munster have struggled in since the retirement of Ronan O’Gara so hopefully Tyler can get his Munster career off on the right note.
How does the quality of the AIL compare to professional rugby?
With the Ulster Bank league player of the year Matt D’Arcy now on Munster’s books, there is no better indicator to find an answer to this long standing question. Despite tearing up the Irish club game, the Clontarf centre has only manged to secure a three-month trial, so it will therefore be of interest to the Irish public to investigate how D’Arcy manages on the provincial scene within that window. Will he be almost just as effective, will he be only average with less space to work with or will he simply be out of his depth?
Finding that answer will be something that will keep the Munster detectives on the edge of their seats tonight as releasing deadly wingers Gerhard Van den Heever and Darren Sweetnam will be important if Munster are to cause damage to their French opponents. This of course is D’Arcy’s responsibility as the outside centre but he will need to have the help of the halfbacks and Cian Bohane to look after him on his first appearance in red if he is to have any impact on the outcome of the game.
All in all it should be a very tight, gritty contest that may not display the greatest rugby but is sure to set to tone for the new season as two huge forward packs go to toe. If nothing else, it will be a great first viewing of Bleyendaal and the other new-comers in a testing contest up against one of the fastest growing teams in European rugby.
Regardless of how it turns out, an evening spent in Thomond Park is never a bad one and I look forward to seeing you all there to get behind the team.
We’re going with a prediction of Munster by 10!
Ronan Calvert of Munster Haka