Leinster have named as strong a side as possible for their Champions Cup semi-final with Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday at 15 15.
Johnny Sexton has returned following time out with an injury and captains the team from fly-half.
Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong begin the game in the front-row, while Devin Toner and James Ryan pair up in the second-row in what is an outstanding front five.
Rhys Ruddock is at six, Sean O’Brien at seven and Jack Conan is at No 8 to make up the remainder of the pack.
Luke McGrath is back at scrum-half to partner Sexton, while Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose team up in the centre.
James Lowe starts on the left-wing, Jordan Larmour on the right, and Rob Kearney will open the game at full-back in what is a star-studded XV.
The bench is full of talent to call upon too if needed. James Tracy, Ed Byrne and Michael Bent are the front-row replacements, with Scott Fardy and Max Deegan covering the rest of the pack. Fardy’s inclusion coupled with Lowe starting means that Jamison Gibson-Park misses out. In his place is Hugh O’Sullivan, who is joined by Ross Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin among the replacements.
Scrum-half McGrath is expecting a huge game and has been impressed by Toulouse since their second of two previous meetings this season, he admitted while speaking to the Irish Times.
“Toulouse have improved as well. That quarter-final in Racing was incredibly impressive, the way they handled the red card, bringing [Sébastien] Bézy on [at scrumhalf], moving [Antoine] Dupont to ‘10’. They’re a class outfit so, it’s going to be a great challenge,” he said.
Toulouse will head into the game in a confident mood as they hope to dethrone the reigning champions in their own backyard.
Clement Castres, Peato Mauvaka and Charlie Faumuina are the front-three, with Richie Arnold and Richie Gray at four and five respectively.
Rynhard Elstadt is at blindside flanker, with Joe Tekori at openside and Jerome Kaino taking the No 8 shirt.
It’s an exciting back-line too as Sebastien Bezy and Antoine Dupont pair up in the half-backs, with Pita Ahki and Sofiane Guitoune outside them in the centre pairing.
The electric Cheslin Kolbe is at 11, with Yoann Huget at 14 and Thomas Ramos occupying the 15 jersey.
The visitors have plenty of talent on the bench with the likes of Cyril Baille, Romain Ntamack and Maxime Medard among the replacements ready to put in a shift when called upon.
Both sides are at their strongest possible and that has led to some interesting individual fights across the pitch.
James Ryan vs Richie Gray = This is one of the most exciting aspects of the game, two of the best locks around going head-to-head. Both are immense at the break-down, and leaders for their respective sides. Whoever comes out on top here will put their team on the front foot and could send their side through to the final.
Jack Conan vs Jerome Kaino = Here is a chance for Jack Conan to continue his rise to the top as he faces one of the best in the business. Conan put in a man of the match performance in the quarter-finals against Ulster and will need a similar performance to keep Kaino at bay. On the other hand, Kaino will need to keep an eye out for Conan’s ability to pick and go. This will be a seriously physical clash and these two will be key to it.
James Lowe vs Cheslin Kolbe = Yes they may be on opposite wings but they are the two sides biggest threats going forward. Lowe will face veteran Huget on his wing while Kolbe comes up against the dancing feet of Larmour. Not only will these two need to be at their best going forward but will need to be solid defensively. You can’t take your eye off either one for a second or they will tear your team apart and if the pair get going we could witness greatness on the flanks.
As both these sides look to add a record fifth European title to their name the stakes couldn’t be higher and with all the cards laid we seem set for a cracker on Sunday.
Player Contract Extensions Confirmed
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm the first player contract extensions of the season with five members of the senior squad putting pen to paper.
Craig Casey has signed a three-year contract while Mike Haley, Shane Daly and Josh Wycherley have signed two-year contract extensions.
Additionally, Alex Kendellen, who advanced to the senior ranks at the beginning of the season on a new two-year deal, has extended his contract further to remain with the province until at least July 2025.
Scrum-half Craig Casey has made 49 appearances for the province since his debut against Connacht in 2019.
The 23-year-old Shannon man and former Ardscoil Rís pupil won Academy Player of the Year in 2019 and was also vice-captain of the Grand Slam-winning Ireland U20s that year.
He was named Young Player of the Year in 2021 and has made 38 appearances over the past two seasons along with earning five Ireland caps.
Mike Haley joined Munster from Sale Sharks in 2018 and has already amassed 80 appearances for the province, starting at full-back on each occasion and scoring 16 tries.
The Preston native played more minutes than any other Munster player in the 2018/19 and 2020/21 campaigns and made his Ireland debut against Italy in August 2019.
28-year-old Haley made his Munster debut against Cheetahs in 2018 and has been a near ever-present at full-back since.
A product of the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy, versatile back Shane Daly joined the senior squad in 2019 and has established himself as a key member of the squad.
He was named Young Player of the Year in 2020 with the Cork Constitution clubman and former PBC student earning two Ireland caps over the past two years.
To date, the 25-year-old has scored eight tries in 49 Munster appearances and starts at full-back for Emerging Ireland against the Griquas in Bloemfontein later today.
Josh Wycherley enjoyed a standout season last year making 19 appearances with an overall 29 appearances in red to date.
The 23-year-old prop made his debut against Cardiff Blues in Thomond Park in October 2020 with his first Champions Cup start singled out for high praise when Munster secured victory against Clermont Auvergne in December 2020.
His grassroots stem from Bantry Bay RFC and he is a former pupil of Cistercian College, Roscrea and linked up with Young Munster RFC on his move to Limerick.
A former Ireland U20s Six Nations Grand Slam winner, Wycherley starts for Emerging Ireland against the Griquas in Bloemfontein later today.
21-year-old Alex Kendellen was initially named in the Emerging Ireland squad for the South Africa tour but did not travel as he continues to follow return to play protocols.
A product of PBC and UCC the back-row forward was deservedly named the Academy Player of the Year in June after a fantastic season that saw him line out in 20 of Munster’s 26 games.
Kendellen made his debut against Scarlets in March 2021 and has made 22 appearances for the province.
He captained the Ireland U20s for the 2021 Six Nations and was a standout performer as they finished third, scoring six tries in five appearances.
Watch Live | Griquas v Emerging Ireland – 12.45pm
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Munster Rugby New Coaches Intro | 2022/23
A new-look coaching team will lead Munster Rugby this season with Head Coach Graham Rowntree joined by Mike Prendergast, Andi Kyriacou and Denis Leamy.
New Attack Coach Prendergast joined from Racing 92, Forwards Coach Kyriacou was promoted from his role as Elite Player Development Officer and Defence Coach Leamy has returned from Leinster.
See profiles for the three new members of the coaching team below. Scroll down to watch Graham Rowntree’s first interview as Munster Head Coach.
Mike Prendergast – Attack Coach
Mike Prendergast has joined Munster from Top 14 side Racing 92, where he held the role of Attack and Backs Coach since 2019.
Prendergast has a wealth of experience of coaching at the top level and in addition to Racing 92 he has held assistant coaching roles with Stade Francais, Oyannax Rugby and Grenoble FCG since making the move to France in 2013.
On completing his professional playing career in 2009 the scrum-half continued playing with his club Young Munster RFC while also progressing on the coaching front as he held Head Coach and Director of Rugby roles with the Limerick side.
On the provincial coaching front, he previously worked closely with Academy Manager Ian Costello and Team Manager Niall O’Donovan when overseeing the backline for the Munster A’s that enjoyed British and Irish Cup success in 2012.
Andi Kyriacou – Forwards Coach
Andi Kyriacou has been promoted from his role as an Elite Player Development Officer with the Greencore Munster Rugby Academy, a position he held since April 2021.
From England, the former hooker lined out for the province during the 2006/07 season when on loan from Saracens and went on to represent Ulster and Cardiff Rugby before retiring from the professional game in 2013.
Over the last decade he has held numerous coaching roles in the areas of the scrum, defence, skills, and forwards working with Cardiff Rugby, Sale Sharks, Russia Rugby and Nottingham.
Denis Leamy – Defence Coach
Denis Leamy returned to Munster after a three-year spell at Leinster, where he first held a role as an Elite Player Development Officer before moving up to the role of Contact Skills Coach in October 2021.
Following a hugely successful playing career with Munster and Ireland Leamy’s coaching career saw him work with several sides across the province over seven years including Young Munster RFC, Rockwell College, Clonmel RFC, Cashel RFC and Garryowen FC.
On the provincial front the Tipperary native also worked at various stages with Munster’s age-grade players and the ‘A’ team before making the move to Leinster.
He joined the Ireland U20s team as Assistant Coach for the 2021 Six Nations campaign.
Video | Graham Rowntree Interview
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Video | Graham Rowntree’s 1st Interview As Head Coach
We spoke to Graham Rowntree about his new role as Munster Head Coach ahead of the pre-season training programme.
Graham spent three years as Munster Forwards Coach before stepping up to become Head Coach.
He leads a new-look coaching team including Attack Coach Mike Prendergast, Defence Coach Denis Leamy and Forwards Coach Andi Kyriacou.
The new campaign kicks off in one month with Munster taking on Gloucester and London Irish in two pre-season games at Musgrave Park. Click here for fixture details and ticket news.
Watch Graham Rowntree’s first interview as Munster Head Coach below.
Buy a discount two-match pack here.
Friday, August 26
Munster Rugby v Gloucester, Musgrave Park, 7.30pm; Buy tickets here
Friday, September 2
Munster Rugby v London Irish, Musgrave Park, 7.30pm; Buy tickets here
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