The Pro 14 dream team nominations have been confirmed and Benetton will have the most candidates for the final team to be announced on Thursday night.
The Italians have been rewarded for a fantastic season which has seen them progress to the knock-out stages for the first time in their history, only for a late penalty against Munster to deny them a semi-final berth against Leinster.
Benetton have had seven players nominated in the 45-man list, which consists of three players across the league competing for each position.
Their nominations are Epalahame Faiva, Marco Riccioni, Federico Ruzza, Braam Steyn, Dewaldt Duvenge, Monty Ioane and Ratuva Tavuyara. The total of seven nominations gives them two more candidates than Glasgow Warriors and four more than Leinster, with the pair set to face off in the final at Celtic Park on Saturday.
For Glasgow Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Adam Hastings and Nick Grigg have been nominated in their respective positions while for Leinster Scott Fardy, Max Deegan and James Lowe will hope for selection in the XV.
Elsewhere, the other Irish provinces have all been handed five nominations. Ulster have been rewarded for a fantastic season, which saw them reach the semi-finals with Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marcel Coetzee, John Cooney and Staurt McCloskey among the 45 players.
Munster have also received five nominations as Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Mike Haley battle for a spot on the team.
While Connacht’s Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell were all recognised for their stellar individual season which saw the men in green claim a Champions Cup spot for next season.
The 45-man shortlist which contains players from 11 of the 14 teams in the competition is compiled by a panel of more than 75 media who have covered the season and all eyes will be on how well the Italian side get on.
Munster confirm Zebo signing
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.”
Ulster Rugby agree to release Coetzee early
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.
Lowry retained at 10 for Ulster v Zebre
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.