Munster and Ireland gear up for weekend action

Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony will be looking for a statement win in the Six Nations opener. Photo: Harry Murphy.

LOCAL armchair rugby enthusiasts will once again be spoiled for choice this weekend with a great number of clashes set to take place.

First-up, the Six Nations opens with a mouth-watering clash between France and Ireland in Marseille on Friday (8pm, Virgin Media One), while the following evening Munster host touring side Crusaders in Páirc Uí Chaoimh (5pm, TG4).

At the Orange Velodrome, Andy Farrell’s side will get an opportunity to get their campaign off to a winning start.

With a mainly Leinster representation, Ireland will face this game with confidence. France will be without Antoine Dupont while Munster’s Jack Crowley is likely to feature as cover at 10.

The venue has been getting a lot of media attention, with Rob Henshaw commenting that “most of the Leinster players have played there. It’s an incredible stadium and the crowd are right in your face. France are well used to using that to their advantage.”

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Meanwhile, Crusaders will be running out in front of a full house on Leeside without several of their All-Blacks (with Ryan Crotty as the only All-Black back-liner named), but former Munster coach Rob Penney will be hoping to make the first match of this pre-season tour into a winning one.

Former Wales and Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny looks sure to start in this first of a two-match tour before travelling to England to play the Bristol Bears.

“We’re really looking forward to the game, to play at a packed stadium and the team is buzzing. It’s a great opportunity for us to connect before the 2024 season properly starts and to test ourselves against some mighty opponents,” said Munster coach Penney.

Munster coach Graham Rowntree added that “Crusaders are the Super Rugby champs and even though they may be short a few of their stars they will want to win this game. We have not been perfect so far this season, but some of it was related to weather factors.”

“John Hodnett will be out with a finger injury (after undergoing surgery on same) until March and we will not rush him, he has served us well. Tom Ahern is still out due to the concussion but there are better signs regarding RG (Snyman) and Mike Haley.”

Paddy Patterson is also side-lined following a knee operation, while Simon Zebo (knee) is due to visit a specialist in the coming days.

Other injury concerns surround Jack O’Donoghue, Dave Kilcoyne, Diarmid Barron, Jean Kleyn, Liam Coombes and Roman Salanoa.