MUNSTER coach Anthony Foley has handed senior debuts to nine players in tomorrow night’s opening pre-season friendly against French Top 14 side Grenoble at Thomond Park, 7pm.
Foley has been boosted by the return to fitness of five senior players who missed the end of last season through injury.
New Zealander Tyler Bleyendaal, a former World Junior Championship winning captain, makes his debut at out-half having recovered from a long-term neck injury.
Bleyendaal is partnered at half-back by Cathal Sheridan.
Last season’s AIL Division 1A Player of the Season, Matt D’Arcy, is another making his first appearance in the red jersey. The centre is joined in the midfield by Cian Bohane who completes his long road to recovery following a serious knee injury sustained during last season’s pre-season action.
South African Gerhard van den Heever has also rehabbed his knee injury and starts on the left wing with Darren Sweetnam on the opposite flank in a back-three completed by academy full-back David Johnston who makes his first start for the senior side.
Shane Buckley and Robin Copeland have both recovered from their respective shoulder injuries to take their places in the back-row at six and eight, while new signing and former Leinster player Jordan Coghlan starts at openside.
A proud day for the Johnston family also sees younger brother Bill, a Schools Senior Cup winner with Rockwell College last season, provide cover on the bench. Johnston is one of six replacements in line to make their senior debut for the province along with flying Young Munster winner Diarmuid McCarthy, of Young Munster, Peter McCabe (senior), Rory Burke (academy), Conor Oliver (academy), and Steve McMahon (academy).
An all-senior front row sees John Ryan and BJ Botha start on either side of Niall Scannell with academy lock John Madigan and the returning Dave Foley (wrist) completing the tight five.
Donncha O’Callaghan, Kevin O’Byrne, Sean McCarthy (academy), Ryan Foley (academy) and Ned Hodson (academy) complete an extended matchday squad of 26.
After the game, all spectators are invited to join the Munster players at a post-match BBQ in the Fan Zone Plaza where they will be on hand to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
Tickets can be purchased online from www.munsterrugby.ie, from the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices at Thomond Park and Musgrave, or by calling 0818 719 300.
On the injury front, Denis Hurley, who picked up an ankle injury at Tuesday’s training session, will undergo further review after the weekend once the swelling subsides.
MUNSTER XV: David Johnston; Darren Sweetnam, Cian Bohane, Matt D’Arcy, Gerhard van den Heever; Tyler Bleyendaal, Cathal Sheridan ( capt); John Ryan, Niall Scannell, BJ Botha; John Madigan, Dave Foley; Shane Buckley, Jordan Coghlan, Robin Copeland. Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Peter McCabe, Rory Burke, Donncha O’Callaghan, Sean McCarthy, Ryan Foley, Bill Johnston, Diarmuid McCarthy, Conor Oliver, Ned Hodson, Steve McMahon.