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Munster v Ulster: Anthony Foley's woes are mounting as tougher tests lie ahead

By Michael Sadlier

Their early league form doesn't lie, and four wins from five is obviously an acceptable enough return, but things could be easier for Munster right now.

Felix Jones's shock retirement from the game mid-week, due to a neck injury picked up at Glasgow Warriors in the third round of PRO12 games, was a pretty shattering blow and reverberated beyond the southern province's borders, becoming a very unwanted addition to coach Anthony Foley's considerable woes.

Indeed, for all Munster's early gains in the league there has - and especially so with the run of games now stretching without a break until the New Year - been a growing sense of unease around the injury list which Foley is having to already deal with in the post-Paul O'Connell era.

Jones leaving the game with immediate effect has left quite a void but, when added to the currently sidelined flankers Peter O'Mahony and Tommy O'Donnell, along with prop Stephen Archer, Foley has problems as he heads towards the European Cup next month.

Such is the situation that he has moved to fill the gap in the back row by recruiting former Ulster player Sean Doyle from Australia on a short-term deal while O'Mahony and O'Donnell recover.

And Foley has also signed Argentina's Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino - who is due to play in tonight's World Cup third-place play-off - who comes in on the same basis as Doyle to cover full-back.

Of course things could be a lot worse had third-placed Munster spluttered their way to this point but it all ramps up now and, after last weekend's first defeat at table-topping Scarlets, Foley will need to see off Ulster to maintain the sense that all is well.

And the coach - now in his second season - knows that time is hardly on his side to rejuvenate Munster's expectancy of success which is focused, primarily, on claiming another league title to sit alongside the achievement of 2011.

Foley was on the cusp of that last May when Munster faced Glasgow Warriors at the Kingspan Stadium showpiece when the theory was the southern province would simply have squeezed the opposition into submission.

Instead, Munster were out-thought and out-played by a Warriors side who looked light years ahead of them.

It was a salutary experience for Foley who knows he is under pressure to bring something new to Munster's game-plan.

While the evolution continues, Foley will still seek to traditionally bully Ulster up front tonight.

The coach has made seven changes from last week in what looks a strong starting side, with the most notable alteration being the inclusion of World Cup returnee Simon Zebo on the wing.

Former Ireland international scrum-half Tomas O'Leary gets his first start since returning to hook up with Ian Keatley and All Black Francis Saili is included in a useful midfield with Denis Hurley.

James Cronin, Mike Sherry and Dave Foley are all starting in what is a powerful pack with a notably robust back row which has Robin Copeland shifting to number eight and CJ Stander switching to blindside flanker.

And lingering on the bench waiting for the call is none other than Donnacha Ryan along with Uruguayan prop Mario Sagario, the short-term signing for Archer.

A bad week could at least end well tonight.

Belfast Telegraph

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