If Munster are pinpointing one particular threat ahead of tonight’s RaboDirect PRO12 season opener with Edinburgh Rugby, then it may not be the obvious one.
It may not be the All Black in Ben Atiga, the British and Irish Lion in Ross Ford, the only player to have won at Munster in Al Dickinson, or even the 38-cap stalwart that is Nick De Luca.
Instead, the player who has previously proved a particular thorn in Munster flesh is a 23-year-old with only 16 starts for Edinburgh over the previous two seasons, but one who could be about to come of age, starting at Musgrave Park.
Step forward Dougie Fife, who, quietly and effectively, has come through the ranks to become an integral part of the Edinburgh set-up, either at wing or centre and who, when the teams met in a Heineken European Cup tie at Murrayfield last season, notched a try brace.
Those two scores were irrelevant in the context of qualification as Edinburgh lost the match, but they did finally break the team’s tournament try drought. After 329 minutes without crossing the opposition whitewash, suddenly Fife broke through twice in as many minutes near the end.
Such penetration did not go unnoticed either, and from there, Fife started eight of Edinburgh’s ten remaining games. It is a run which carried over into pre-season friendlies, with an initial outing on the wing against Northampton followed by a start at centre in the win over Newcastle. Little wonder Fife is enthused about what lies ahead, although he is keen to play down any prospect of being a “marked man”.
Fife said: “The current Edinburgh squad is quality and nobody will be marking one man in particular. I have good reason to remember the European match, but I’ve also played Munster at Musgrave Park when there was rain, hail and wind, with the crowd very close to the pitch.
“I know how tough they can be, whether with the international contingent present or away. However, Munster is a great place to start and show everyone what hard work has been done in Edinburgh’s pre-season and that we mean business this year.”
This will be Alan Solomons’ first competitive outing in charge of Edinburgh and Fife is hoping to become an even more prominent figure under the South African coach.
“It’s nice to have been involved so far at wing and centre and I feel a lot more comfortable, a lot more settled, in a squad where there is definitely a fresh buzz and vibe,” he continued.
“It’s a fresh start and this week [collision/tackle coach] Omar Mouneimne started work and immediately made it clear we are going to play a bit differently. It will be about territory and gaining possession where we want to have it. We aim not to let other teams dictate.”
A sizeable injury list has denied Edinburgh key personnel tonight, including captain Greig Laidlaw.
However, flanker Sean Cox, who takes over the armband, is upbeat. “I’m happy to take on the captaincy, although Greig is a massive loss and someone you want to look round and see on your side,” he said.
“That said, Sean Kennedy is picking up plenty of good experience now and has a big future ahead. We are looking to focus on our defence first and foremost. It’s a little bit like starting again, doing basics well and getting foundations right.
“I don’t believe we could have worked any harder these last three months in training. The boys are itching to play and have been looking at this date from as soon as the fixtures were announced.
“The 23 players with the shirt are very lucky because we have a squad of 50 who would love to be here too. We are not intimidated by anyone, we are not scared by anyone. At this stage, it’s not going to be perfect but we are hoping we can do enough to get the right result.”
For Edinburgh to win in Munster for the first time since 2006 will mean breaking a sequence of five straight defeats in the fixture. Edinburgh have only managed a single success in their last seven opening round matches – a 22-21 victory at Cardiff Blues in 2009. Their only away since last December was at Zebre in late March.
History is stacked against them, but this is a new era, so, understandably, optimism runs high. A win tonight would further heighten that mood.