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PREVIEW: Munster v Benetton

Munster have made a host of changes to the side that faced Cardiff last weekend for their trip to Italy

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Photo by Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Munster have made 11 changes to their team that defeated Cardiff last weekend as they head to Italy to face Benetton on Friday at 7pm.

Munster know that they need a win to keep the pressure on Glasgow at the top of the table and stay in the hunt for a home semi-final.

Mike Haley, Darren Sweetnam, Billy Holland and Chris Cloete are the only players to keep their places in the starting team from last week.

Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshall and Stephen Archer make up the front-row as Archer is set to make his 150th Pro 14 appearance.

Fineen Wycherley partners captain Holland in the second-row, with Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete and Gavin Coombes behind in the back-row. Coombes is set for his debut.

Alby Mathewson starts at scrum-half, alongside JJ Hanrahan in the half-backs, who is set to play his 100th match for the reds.

Outside them are Dan Goggin and Sam Arnold in the centre pairing. Shane Daly is on the left-wing, another ready to make his first start, with Darren Sweetnam on the right and Hike Haley at full-back.

Their bench is largely inexperienced with academy player Alex Henry, yet another ready to make his debut for the club among them.

Speaking ahead of the game Munster head coach Johann van Graan, who signed a new contract extension during the week, has complimented the opposition and their style.

“They’ve been excellent. The conference system sets up knock-out rugby pretty well and they play knock-out rugby,” he said.

On other side Benetton have made one change to the team that secured a dramatic away draw at Leinster last weekend, with Tommaso Benvenuti coming in for Luca Morisi. Otherwise it’s as you were.

A win for Munster is crucial in the race to stay in touch with Glasgow at the top of Conference A, but Benetton are in the play-off positions in Conference B and will want to stay there, so this could be a battle worth watching.

Pro14

Munster confirm Zebo signing

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to announce that Simon Zebo has signed a one-year contract to return to play with the province for the 2021/22 season.

This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.

In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.

Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.

“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”

Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.

“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”

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Pro14

Ulster Rugby agree to release Coetzee early

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Marcell Coetzee has played his last game for Ulster Rugby.

With back-row, Marcell Coetzee, currently side-lined with a hamstring injury, Ulster Rugby has agreed terms which will see the player released from the club at the end of this month, ahead of his planned departure at the conclusion of the 2020/21 season.

Given the need for several weeks of rehabilitation following the injury sustained by Coetzee in last month’s Guinness PRO14 fixture against Leinster, Ulster Rugby and the player have reached a mutual agreement to part ways on Friday 30 April.

Head of Rugby Operations and Recruitment, Bryn Cunningham, said: “We have come to an agreement that will allow Marcell the time and space required to continue his rehab.

“I’d like to thank Marcell for his contribution to the province over the past five years and we wish him and wife, Chanelle the very best for their upcoming return home to South Africa.”

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Pro14

Lowry retained at 10 for Ulster v Zebre

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ulster coaching team has named the match-day squad to host Zebre in tomorrow night’s final Guinness PRO14 regular season game (Kingspan Stadium, 8.15pm).

21-year-old, Cormac Izuchukwu will make his first start for the Ulster men as he is named in the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell. Marty Moore comes back into the starting front row at tighthead, with Eric O’Sullivan and John Andrew retaining their starting berths at loosehead and hooker. Jordi Murphy will captain the side at openside flanker, with Sean Reidy and David McCann being retained at blindside and Number Eight.

A youthful back line sees Ethan McIlroy coming into the  back three at full-back, with Rob Lyttle on the left wing and Robert Baloucoune returning on the right. Stewart Moore and James Hume will make up the midfield pairing, while John Cooney and Michael Lowry are named at half-back.

Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Matty Rea are the forward reinforcements, with David Shanahan, Ian Madigan and Ben Moxham providing the back line options on the bench.

Ulster team to play Zebre Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Round 16, Friday 19 March at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports / eir Sport):

(15-9) Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle, Michael Lowry, John Cooney;

(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordy Murphy (Capt.), David McCann.

Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.

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