Preview: Munster v Zebre

Date published: September 18 2014

Munster have named lock Paul O'Connell and scrum-half Conor Murray in their starting side for Friday's home PRO12 clash with Zebre.

Munster have named Paul O'Connell and Conor Murray in their starting XV for Friday's PRO12 clash with Zebre.

The duo return along with prop Dave Kilcoyne, fly-half JJ Hanrahan, flanker Paddy Butler and centre Denis Hurley for the game against the Italians.

Seven changes are made to the side that defeated Treviso, with Felix Jones retaining the captain's armband for a second consecutive game.

BJ Botha comes into the front-row at tighthead with James Cronin and hooker Duncan Casey retaining their starting places.

Billy Holland lines out once again in the second-row and is partnered by the returning O'Connell.

In the back-row, Butler makes his first appearance of the season on the blindside, with openside flanker Tommy O'Donnell and number eight Robin Copeland remaining in situ from last weekend.

Murray also returns at scrum-half and is joined by Johnny Holland in the half-backs while Hurley opens his account for Munster this season at inside centre, partnering Andrew Smith who takes charge of the outside channel.

Following two 80 minute performances in rounds 1 and 2 of the new Guinness PRO12 season, Andrew Conway's place on the right wing goes to Ronan O'Mahony this week.

Meanwhile, Zebre have handed first starts to off-season arrivals, prop Andrea Lovotti and fly-half Edorardo Padovani – two players who attend the Italy Rugby Union National Academy.

Padovani will join Guglielmo Palazzani in the Zebre half-backs at Thomond Park in what is one of the youngest partnerships ever selected by an Italian team in the PRO12.

“It will be a very hard clash,” said head coach Andrea Cavinato. “We need to improve in the defensive aspect and eliminate individual errors that have affected much in the first two games against Cardiff and Ulster, especially in the tactical kicking game.”

Form: Munster ended a three game losing run with their 21-10 victory in Treviso on Friday evening. The Munstermen have been defeated in an unprecedented three successive games at Thomond Park in the professional era, but have never lost to an Italian side in Ireland. Zebre have slipped to three successive Guinness PRO12 defeats without tallying a single league point in the process. Zebre have lost all 21 previous encounters with Irish provinces in all competitions, gaining just five losing bonus points and a try bonus point in the process. Zebre have accumulated just one losing bonus point from their four previous encounters with Munster, whilst the Munstermen have recorded three maximum point victories.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Felix Jones (capt), 14 Ronan O'Mahony, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Denis Hurley, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Holland, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Paddy Butler, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Billy Holland, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Duncan Casey, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O'Byrne, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Sean Dougall, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Johne Murphy.

Zebre: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 David Odiete, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Kelly Haimona, 11 Giulio Toniolatti, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Filippo Cristiano, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 George Biagi, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (capt), 3 Luciano Leibson 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 21 Andries Ferreira, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Gonzalo Garcia, 23 Mirco Bergamasco.

Date: Friday, September 19
Kick-off: 19:30 BST
Venue: Thomond Park
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll (Ireland), Gary Glennon (Ireland)