Rory Scannell - In action against Cardiff earlier this season
MUNSTER centre Rory Scannell insists Italian side Zebre will provide a formidable challenge in their Guinness Pro14 showdown in Parma on Sunday.
Munster, who this week welcomed new head coach Johann van Graan, resume their programme of PRO14 fixtures following a three-week break with a trip to Italy to face Michael Bradley’s Zebre.
While Munster have won all 10 of their previous league meetings against Zebre, the Italian side has already defeated Ulster and the Kings at home this season.
And Munster have only won one fixture away from home in the Pro14 this season.
Centre Rory Scannell said: “You can see they had a great win against Ulster over there they beat the Kings and they’ve lost a few games by only a point, so yeah, as I said, it’s our away form we’re kinda concentrating on as well so we’ve lost three, but we’re looking to rectify that this week.
”It’s definitely going to be tough, there are a few lads who are going to be slotting in that haven’t had a lot of game time so it’s going to be a challenge but we’re excited.”
Munster is facing a double injury blow ahead of the crucial back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures with Leicester Tigers, as winger Keith Earls and prop James Cronin set to miss next month’s clashes due to injury.
In-form Earls is sidelined with a hamstring injury he sustained while training with Ireland ahead of their opening Guinness Series fixture with South Africa.
Prop James Cronin is ruled out at present with a calf injury he picked up while playing with the Barbarians against Samoa at Thomond Park earlier this month.
Speaking at a Munster press briefing in UL on Tuesday, Munster scrum coach, Jerry Flannery said: “Earlsey (Keith Earls) is not going to be available for the foreseeable future.
“It’ll be another seven or eight weeks anyway with his hamstring. Whether it progresses better as it gets closer I don’t know.
“James Cronin is still out, he is probably another six to seven weeks with his calf.”
Scrum-half Duncan Williams is reported to have ‘a shoulder niggle’ and while out-half Tyler Bleyendaal’s neck injury is said to be progressing well, the half-backs will both miss this weekend’s game.
Another key player missing for the trip to Italy is back-rower Tommy O’Donnell who has been troubled with an AC joint injury in his shoulder.
O’Donnell is expected to return in the Pro14 fixture at home to Ospreys on December 2 or the Champions Cup fixture with the Tigers in Limerick a week later.
On a more positive note in relation to Munster’s back-row options, Jack O’Donoghue returns to training this week following a minor ankle injury sustained against Dragons earlier this month.
Munster sit second in Conference A of the Pro14 with five wins from their opening eight fixtures.
Rory Scannell admitted he was disappointed to have missed out on selection for the Irish squad for the autumn internationals.
He won three caps for Ireland on last summer’s tour to the US and Japan when he kicked three conversions.
“It’s obviously disappointing, but there’s massive competition there so it kinda keeps you on your toes as well, you have to keep your form every week if you want to get into that squad so I’ll be doing my best to do that over the next couple of weeks.”