DCSIMG

Munster will test Solomons’ progress at Edinburgh

Sean Kennedy has strong Munster connections through his dad. Picture: SNS/SRU

Sean Kennedy has strong Munster connections through his dad. Picture: SNS/SRU

  • by DAVID BARNES
 

ALAN SOLOMONS has already set out his stall on the issue of physical conditioning. The South African coach has spoken at length and with great enthusiasm about no stone being left unturned in his quest to produce a squad capable of fighting fire with fire against any team it comes up against in the coming months.

His players have certainly looked in good shape during Edinburgh’s two pre-season excursions, when Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons provided the opposition. However, these matches lacked the sort of red-hot intensity the team will encounter tonight, when they get their Guinness Pro12 campaign under way against Munster at Thomond Park.

This will be a real test of what progress the team has made under Solomons, who was not around during last summer’s pre-season, so was able to disassociate himself to a large extent from the team’s failings during a pitiful collapse in form when they lost seven of their last eight games.

“We’re in a much better place now. There is still a core of last year’s players around but we’ve got greater strength in depth, and we’ve been able to really focus on the conditioning. As a coaching team we’ve been there from the very beginning, so that will make a difference,” he declared at yesterday’s team announcement.

Edinburgh’s terrible run at the end of last season reached its nadir in their penultimate match when they were on the receiving end of a 55-12 drubbing by the team they face again tonight. That painful memory is bound to spur Edinburgh on as they look to get the new league campaign off to a winning start.

“They gave us a stuffing. That’s accepted. We may have been tired, but they did it – it’s an unavoidable fact – and I think the players know that if you are 15-20 per cent off your game against a quality side like Munster, then you are in trouble. It’s the same in any quality competition,” agreed Solomons.

“The players are appreciative of the fact that Munster, one of the leading sides in Europe, are no easy proposition, especially at Thomond Park, so we have to get our performance right.

“The two warm-up games against Premiership opposition have been fantastic preparation. We are all aware of what Munster bring, especially at Thomond Park, and especially at the start of Anthony Foley’s career [as head coach]. A Munster man who has played over 200 games for them – he’s Limerick born and bred – and I think that will really help bring back the Munster tradition.

“I think there will be slight tweaks in the way they play. I think they will be a strong mauling side and they will play a bit for territory, but that doesn’t mean they won’t attack.

“Under Rob Penney they tended to play a lot of wide-wide rugby, whereas Anthony Foley has already been quoted in the media as saying he doesn’t feel that worked entirely and that they’ll be looking to generate momentum through the forwards.”

Injury and lack of match practice have deprived Edinburgh of several key forwards for tonight’s match, including second-rowers Grant Gilchrist and Anton Bresler, loosehead props Wicus Blaauw and Allan Dell, hookers Neil Cochrane and Stuart McInally, and back-rowers David Denton and Roddy Grant. But Solomons is upbeat about the overall state of the squad.

He is hopeful that all his missing frontline men apart from Denton and centre Matt Scott will be back in the selection mix by the end of the month, and he insists he has every confidence in those individuals who are currently at his disposal.

“We’re slowly getting our players back. Mike [Coman] has now taken part in the last two to three weeks of training, we’ve bled him back in a controlled way on advice from the medical team, and his first game back is off the bench tonight, as is the case with WP Nel,” he said.

One position where Solomons has been spoiled for choice is scrum-half. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne started against the Falcons last Friday night and his pace was a constant threat, but Sean Kennedy also looked sharp when he came on at the start of the second half and did enough to get the nod for tonight’s game.

“I think we have three excellent scrum-halves, but Grayson Hart wasn’t considered for this game because he’s only had 15 minutes of rugby since the dislocation of his elbow so it’s better that he goes off and has a club game,” explained the coach. “When we looked at this particular game as a whole we felt that it would be better for us as a team to have Sean starting and Sam coming off the bench. I regard it as a 23-man effort.”

It will be something of a homecoming for Kennedy, who has fond memories of watching Munster play at Thomond Park during his youth.

“My dad, Bernard, was born and raised in Limerick. I was born in Stirling but moved there when I was one year old and lived there for about ten or 11 years, before coming back to Scotland for high school. I used to go to loads of Munster games – everybody used to go – but this will be the first time I’ve played there,” said the 23-year-old.

“Anthony Foley was the main man back then, and there was Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara pulling the strings. I’ll have plenty family coming along to the game, but they’ll all be cheering for Munster.

“I’m sure my dad will be a bit happier if Edinburgh win because his boy is in the team, but I suppose it is a bit of win-win situation for him.’

TEAMS

Munster

15 R O’Mahony

14 A Conway

13 J Murphy

12 A Smith

11 S Zebo

10 I Keatley

9 D Williams

1 J Ryan

2 K O’Byrne

3 BJ Botha

4 D O’Callaghan (c)

5 B Holland

6 CJ Stander

7 S Dougall

8 S Buckley

Subs

16 D Casey

17 A Cotter

18 S Archer

19 D Foley

20 T O’Donnell

21 C Sheridan

22 J Holland

23 I Dineen

Edinburgh

15 J Cuthbert

14 D Fife

13 S Beard

12 A Strauss

11 T Visser

10 G Tonks

9 S Kennedy

1 A Dickinson

2 R ord (c)

3 J Andress

4 F McKenzie

5 O Atkins,

6 T Leonardi

7 H Watson

8 C Du Preez

Subs

16 J Hilterbrand

17 R Sutherland

18 WP Nel

19 B Toolis

20 M Coman

21 S Hidalgo-Clyne

22 N McLennan

23 P Burleigh

 

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