Benetton’s preparations for what is a crucial URC clash with Munster this afternoon (2.30) have been hampered by their disgraced prop Ivan Nemer, who has been suspended until at the end of the season.
Argentina-born Nemer (24), who has been capped 11 times by Italy, ‘gifted’ his team-mate Cherif Traorè a rotten banana in the club’s secret santa last month.
With just one point and one place separating the two teams, Munster have a great chance to make the most of what has been a turbulent time off the pitch for Benetton.
On it, the Italian outfit have been flying, which Ulster recently found out to their detriment.
Benetton have stretched their winning run to six, and as they target consecutive wins over Irish provinces for the first time, this is a potential slip-up for Munster.
The hosts, like Munster, are without several internationals ahead of the start of the Six Nations, but as Graham Rowntree’s men continue to climb up the league table following their stuttering start to the season, this is a game they should win.
From a Munster perspective, the major plus of Joey Carbery’s Ireland omission is that the out-half is available for the trip to Treviso. Away from the spotlight, this is a chance for Carbery to rebuild his confidence following a tough spell for him personally.
Playing alongside Paddy Patterson, who has been in fine form this season, Carbery will get plenty of quick ball, if the pack can get the edge up front.
With that in mind, Fineen Wycherley’s first appearance in almost four months due to a shoulder injury is very timely.
John Ryan is denied a fond farewell (for now at least), before he moves to New Zealand to link up with the Chiefs, due to family reasons, which means Roman Salanoa gets a start at tighthead, with veteran Stephen Archer providing cover from the bench that also includes three Academy forwards – Mark Donnelly, Cian Hurley and Ruadhan Quinn.
Carbery isn’t the only Munster player looking to rediscover his best form, as Malakai Fekitoa finds himself in a similar situation.
The former All Black and current Tongan international made a big impact during last weekend’s defeat in Toulouse, which bodes well for his chances of finally settling into the red jersey.
On paper at least, this is a strong enough Munster team to end Benetton’s unbeaten streak. Depending on results elsewhere, a win would see Rowntree’s side climb into at least sixth place on the table.
Benetton – R Smith; I Mendy, M Zanon, F Drago, M Bellini; J Umaga, D Duvenage (capt); N Tetaz, S Maile, T Pasquali; M Lazzaroni, R Favretto; G Pettinelli, A Izekor, H Stowers. Reps: B Bernasconi, T Gallo, F Alongi, N Piantella, C Wegner, A Steyn, M Albanese, M Watson.
Munster – S Daly; C Nash, A Frisch, M Fekitoa, L Coombes; J Carbery, P Patterson; J Wycherley, N Scannell (capt), R Salanoa; J Kleyn, F Wycherley; J O’Sullivan, J Hodnett, A Kendellen. Reps: D Barron, M Donnelly, S Archer, C Hurley, R Quinn, N Cronin, B Healy, R Scannell.
Ref – B Blain (Scotland)
Benetton v Munster,
Live, TG4 & Premier Sports, 2.30