The preparations been done, the phony war games against Leicester Tigers and Gloucester dispensed with and tomorrow the business end of the season begins with the visit to Musgrave Park of new Italian side Aironi Rugby.
Munster coach Tony McGahan, quite understandably admits to knowing very little about the Magners League newcomers yet cautions that they'll present, “a very very strong challenge. Their side contains Test match players with a lot of experience and I believe they'll see this game as an opportunity to make a really strong statement of intent.”
Those players McGahan mentions include Fabio Ongaro, Salvatore Perugini, Carlo Del Fava, Quintin Geldenhuys and Tito Tebaldi who all featured in the Italian squad that played Ireland in the RBS Six Nations earlier this year, while full-back Julien Laharrague and Ludovic Mercier, both former French internationals, will be more than familiar to McGahan and his squad and bring a wealth of experience and no small threat to the mix. Also included in the Italian side are former U20 internationals Roberto Quartaroli and Andrea De Marchi.
The general consensus would be that like all Italian sides the battle up front will be key but Munster hooker Damien Varley doesn't expect it to end there. ” I think certainly it will be a key area but from the little we've seen from their pre season friendlies they look to have backs who are comfortable on the ball and like to take it on.”
Varley, who made his international debut during the recent tour to New Zealand/Australia insists a good start to the season is important. ” Last season we had good form in our pre-season games but fell off against Glasgow in the opening round and struggled for awhile after. That was disappointing so this time around we're looking to improve on that.”
Like everyone else Varley believes that it's what his side do that will determine the outcome. “We must be aware of the threat they (Aironi) pose. No, we haven't had a lot to work on in terms of video footage, they're a new franchise, but we only have to look at the quality of the players in their side to know it'll be a huge challenge. But we need to focus on our own performance, play the way we want and take it from there.”
McGahan has left his backline untouched from last weekend but tweaked the forwards a little, bringing in an all new second row in Mick O'Driscoll and Billy Holland on this occasion. Donnacha Ryan, who partnered Ian Nagle last day, is moved to blindside wing-forward which means Aan Quinlan is kept in reserve while Niall Ronan comes onto the other flank and Denis Leamy binds the pack in the number 8 jersey and wears the captains armband for the third successive game.
Munster: F Jones; D Howlett, J Murphy, S Tuitupou, I Dowling; P Warwick, P Stringer; W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley, M O'Driscoll, B Holland; D Ryan, N Ronan, D Leamy capt. Replacements: D Fogarty, M Horan, J Hayes, A Quinlan, P O'Mahony, D Williams, S Deasy, D Barnes
Aironi Rugby: Julien Laharrague; Giulio Rubini, Roberto Quartaroli, Dylan Des Fountain, Giulio Toniolatti; Ludovic Mercier, Tito Tebaldi; Alberto De Marchi, Fabio Ongaro, Salvatore Perugini; Carlo Del Fava, Quintin Geldenhuys; Jaco Erasmus, Gareth Krause, Nick Williams. Replacements: Andrea De Marchi, Roberto Santamaria, Luigi Milani, Marco Bortolami, Aldo Birchall, Michael Wilson, Alberto Benettin, Gabriel Pizarro.