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Exeter missing Sam Simmonds as Munster bring back their stars

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Sam Simmonds will be absent for Exeter this Saturday in Limerick as they seek to protect a five-point first leg European advantage against a Munster XV that has recalled big names in the guise of skipper Peter O’Mahony, Joey Carbery and Simon Zebo. The Chiefs won last weekend’s round of 16 opener at Sandy Park by 13-8 but they now must do without England and Lions Test player Simmonds, who was voted European player of the year when Exeter clinched a European/Gallagher Premiership double in 2020.

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Jannes Kirsten comes into the starting side at openside flanker with Jacques Vermeulen moving to No8 in place of Simmonds, whose absence is attributed to a hip injury. Exeter boss Rob Baxter was left to rue some missed chances last weekend against an understrength Munster XV and they will now have their work cut out defending their slender lead against a rejigged opposition that includes O’Mahony and Carbery following their respective recoveries from hamstring and knee injuries and the return of Zebo following a bout of gastro. 

O’Mahony will start at blindside with Jack O’Donoghue moving to No8 and Alex Kendellen dropping to the bench having come through his return to play protocol after he played just 28 minutes last weekend. Carbery, meanwhile, takes over at out-half in place of Ben Healy while Zebo is back on the wing for Shane Daly.

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At the end of a week in which they confirmed that assistant Graham Rowntree will succeed the Bath-bound Johann van Graan as head coach, the other two changes for Munster come in the front row where Josh Wycherley and John Ryan are the starting props instead of Jeremy Loughman and Stephen Archer.

Exeter boss Baxter said: “People have been saying Munster will create this and Munster will create that, the reality is we have to create something ourselves. I want us to go over there and create a great, emotional performance ourselves. I want to see our guys look at each other in the changing rooms, nod their heads, and go out there and create the game we want to win the game.

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“We have got a lot of pride and a lot of desire to do well in this competition. It isn’t just about other teams, it’s about us as well. We are going to out there and play to win the game. You can’t really judge the success of the first leg until you have played the second leg. Having said that, if we talk just about the performance last week, I was really pleased. It looked like we had found something about us that will make us a very hard team to beat. In any successful side, that’s the first quality you have to have.”

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MUNSTER: 15. Mike Haley; 14. Keith Earls, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Simon Zebo; 10. Joey Carbery, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Josh Wycherley, 2. Niall Scannell, 3. John Ryan, 4. Jean Kleyn, 5. Fineen Wycherley, 6. Peter O’Mahony (capt), 7. John Hodnett, 8. Jack O’Donoghue. Reps: 16. Diarmuid Barron, 17. Jeremy Loughman, 18. Stephen Archer, 19. Jason Jenkins, 20. Thomas Ahern, 21. Craig Casey, 22. Ben Healy, 23. Alex Kendellen.

EXETER: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Olly Woodburn, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Ian Whitten, 11. Tom O’Flaherty; 10. Joe Simmonds, 9. Sam Maunder; 1. Alec Hepburn, 2. Jack Yeandle (capt), 3. Harry Williams, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Sam Skinner, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jannes Kirsten, 8. Jacques Vermeulen. Reps: 16. Jack Innard, 17. Billy Keast, 18. Patrick Schickerling, 19. Richard Capstick, 20. Santiago Grondona, 21. Jack Maunder, 22. Tom Gilbert-Hendrickson, 23. Josh Hodge.

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