There are so many aspects to this evening’s historic clash between Munster and a South Africa XV at Páirc Uí Chaoimh that it’s almost impossible to figure what’s going to be the most significant.
Could Munster complete the treble and, at the fourth time of asking, claim the South Africa scalp to add to the New Zealand and Australia victories?
Will the biggest crowd ever to witness a rugby match in Munster now lead to big Champions Cup games moving to Páirc Uí Chaoimh?
Then, of course, there is the current form of Munster. Two wins from seven in the URC suggest where they stage Champions Cup games next season won’t be a question that will concern them, as they are destined for the Challenge Cup unless they can start chalking up points. They will resume that task in a couple of weeks against Connacht, but they will savour the novelty and opportunity of this evening’s clash on the banks of the Lee.
One man with a lot to look forward to this evening is Alex Kendellen. He grew up not much more than a kick of a ball from Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but when he turned his back on his GAA career to pursue a future in rugby, he presumed any hope he had of ever playing there was gone forever. But this evening he will realise his dream when he comes on for Munster against a South Africa XV in front of the capacity 41,400 crowd at the famous venue.
The family business, Basil Deli & Market, run by his parents Carole and Gareth a few minutes’ walk away in Ballintemple, will have closed for the evening as the Kendellens come out in force to witness history being made with the first rugby match at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“It’s not one that I was leaning towards, to play in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. It was kind of sprung on us, but it was really special when it got announced, going back to Blackrock and Cork. It’s a pinch-yourself moment, and I’m massively looking forward to it.
“We live just a stone’s throw from Páirc Uí Chaoimh. I played football for St Michael’s and a small bit of hurling for Blackrock, but I was more football-based. I never played at the Páirc, I stuck to the rugby,” said the 21-year old.
Playing a touring side will be a new experience for the former Ireland U-20 captain, as he wasn’t at any of Munster’s previous showdowns with visiting teams. Still, he’s more than familiar with the history.
“Those are the games, we said it in the team meeting, they are special games. Denis Leamy was telling us they are extremely special, and they are the ones you want to be part of. They are the ones which get written into history, and that’s what all the lads in here want to be . . . a part of history in those games.”
Kendellen had just turned 20 when he made his Munster debut against Scarlets in March last year and he chalked up 20 games last season.
But progress this season was impacted when he suffered a head injury on the opening-day loss to Cardiff. He was stood down for six weeks, missing the Emerging Ireland tour to South Africa.
“It was disappointing, I felt that was a great opportunity to go down to South Africa and, hopefully, put a foot forward. But I know the importance Munster medical staff put towards my head and my well-being, so I am very happy that it was me first. I know that’s very important.”
Kendellen knows what a South Africa XV with 14 Springboks on board will bring to tonight’s clash, but having made his return before the break against Ulster, he’s raring to go.
“There’s no shying away, it is going to be a physical game. We played the Bulls in recent games and the Lions away in South Africa. We know exactly what they are going to bring; they are going to bring a big forward maul, and it’s about stopping that,” he said.
It will be the fourth time Munster have hosted South Africa, with all three visits in 1951, 1960 and 1970 being won by the visitors.
Head coach Graham Rowntree makes seven changes to the side which went down to Ulster last time out, with Jack O’Donoghue skippering a side which includes three academy players.
Cobh native Edwin Edogbo starts in the second-row as the promising 19-year-old, who made his debut in September, gets an opportunity to shine on another level in his sixth appearance for Munster. He will be partnered by debutant Scottish international Kiran McDonald, after joining as injury cover for three months from financially-troubled Wasps.
Edogbo’s academy colleagues Cian Hurley and Patrick Campbell are on the bench.
Summer signing from Bristol Antoine Frisch will make his first start after recovering from a calf injury, while Simon Zebo returns on the wing and Ben Healy starts at out-half with Joey Carbery and Jack Crowley away on Ireland duty.
Munster – M Haley; S Daly, A Frisch, R Scannell, S Zebo; B Healy, P Patterson; J Wycherley, D Barron, R Salanoa; E Edogbo, K McDonald; J O’Donoghue (c), J Hodnett, G Coombes. Reps: N Scannell, L O’Connor, K Knox, C Hurley, A Kendellen, N Cronin, P Campbell, M Fekitoa.
South Africa XV – A Fassi; S Hartzenberg, H van Wyk, C Hendricks, L Las; J Goosen, H Jantjies; N Mchunu, J Dweba, T du Toit (c); J Jenkins, R Nortje; P Buthelezi, E Louw, JL du Preez. Reps: AH Venter, S Matanzima, S Sandi, D du Preez, S Notshe, G Williams, S Nohamba, G Lombard.
REF – K Dickson (England).
Munster v South Africa XV,
Live, Virgin Media Two, 7.30