Munster welcome Cardiff Blues to Thomond Park on Saturday for an all-Conference A clash in the Guinness PRO14.
What’s at stake:
The Blues are currently bottom of Conference A but they did grab their first win of the season last time out against Connacht.
Munster sit second in the conference after their unbeaten start came to a crashing halt against Glasgow Warriors last week.
Team news (Munster)
Munster’s Lions contingent of Conor Murray, captain Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander are among nine changes made by director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.
O’Mahony and Stander are part of six changes to the pack with the international front row trio of Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan all making their first starts of the season.
Robin Copeland is another to make his first start of 2017/18.
Murray and Ian Keatley come in at half-back as does Jaco Taute in midfield. Partnering Rory Scannell, the South African takes charge of the outside channel for the first time this season.
Team news (Cardiff Blues)
Jack Roberts makes his competitive debut for Cardiff Blues as one of eight changes.
Four of those changes come alongside Roberts in the back line, with Blaine Scully returning from injury to captain the side and Tomos Willams and Jarrod Evans forming an exciting half-back partnership.
Up front, Matthew Rees returns to start at hooker, James Down and George Earle pack down at second-row and Olly Robinson steps up from the bench following an impressive debut last week.
Munster Rugby’s 100 per cent winning start to the Guinness PRO14 ended in Glasgow on Friday.
But the Blues’ record at Thomond Park in all competitions since the region were formed in 2003 is played seven, lost seven.
However, following a first competitive win of the season, assistant Blues coach Matt Sherratt insists there is added confidence in camp.
“Winning makes a massive difference. It’s a results-based business. People come into training a little bit more buoyant,” he said.
“We’ve not gone overboard because if Jarrod misses that kick (against Connacht), it’s a different feeling.
“You have to stay processed, because it’s too long a season to get too massively high or massively low after a result. We weren’t the worst team in the championship after Edinburgh and we’re not the best team in the championship after Connacht.
“We need to keep getting better every week, but having a win gives you a spring in your step and makes you look forward to the next game a little bit more.
Key Battle: Nick Williams v CJ Stander
The battle at No 8 at Thomond Park might well measure on the Richter Scale on Saturday.
Nick Williams will lead from the front for the Blues against a Munster side with Stander back in their ranks.
The Ireland international is coming off the back of a Lions Tour to New Zealand and will hope to hit the ground running in the new campaign.
The Munstermen have lost only one home game in any tournament since the Blues visited Cork in September 2016: 21-30 to Scarlets at Thomond Park in February 2017.
Did you know?
Along with Scarlets and Glasgow Warriors, Cardiff Blues are one of only three sides not to have received a card yet in the Guinness PRO14.
Munster: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Robin Copeland, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony – capt., Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Liam O’Connor, Stephen Archer, Mark Flanagan, Sean McCarthy, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Chris Farrell
Cardiff Blues: Rhun Williams; Blaine Scully (capt), Jack Roberts, Willis Halaholo, Tom James; Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Brad Thyer, Matthew Rees, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, James Down, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, Seb Davies, Macauley Cook, Lloyd Williams, Steven Shingler, Matthew Morgan
Thomond Park, Limerick – 1:30PM on Saturday September 30, live on Sky Sports
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Gary Conway (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
British & Irish Lion Conor Murray celebrated his first Munster appearance of the season with a try as Rassie Erasmus’ side bounced back to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14.
Munster’s unbeaten start to the season was brought to an end by fellow Conference A high-flyers Glasgow Warriors in Round Four but they rallied to dispatch Cardiff Blues 39-16 at Thomond Park
Try-scorer Murray was joined in the hosts’ starting line-up by fellow Lions Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, who also toured New Zealand this summer.
Cardiff got their noses in front in the eighth minute, with Jarrod Evans dissecting the posts to make it 3-0, but that only served to spur Munster to action, with the home side then powering through the phases at a rate of knots.
As the red shirts poured forward, a powerful run from Rory Scannell saw him bustle his way through a host of bodies before teeing up the returning Murray to finish things off at the base of the posts, Ian Keatley converting.
With 20 minutes on the clock, 21-year-old Evans tucked away another long-range penalty for the Blues to reduce the deficit to a single point and it wasn’t long before the visitors were back in front.
Willis Halaholo’s clever decoy pass sent Cardiff’s route of attack out to the left flank but they slickly worked the ball back from whence it came, with the Blues constructing a two-on-one situation that allowed Steve Shingler to tee up Josh Turnbull for his team’s first try of the game, Evans adding the extras.
In the 29th minute, Munster’s Keatley landed a penalty but shortly afterwards, Evans matched that feat and continued his impressive kicking display to make it 16-10 to the visitors.
Another infringement allowed Keatley to convert with the boot to haul Munster back to within three points and on the stroke of half-time, with Scannell again driving forward with intent, a forward knock saw them miss out on the chance to head into the break in the ascendancy.
After play restarted, Munster opted for a succession of scrums as they strived for their second try of the game, with Cardiff receiving their first yellow card of the season as Taufa’ao Filise was penalised, and following an extended period of pressure, the hosts’ John Ryan lunged over the line, Keatley adding the extras.
The hosts continued to cash in on their man advantage as, in the 56th minute, Scannell skewered the Blues back line and blitzed forward before sumptuously popping the ball into the arms of JJ Hanrahan, who dotted down to mark his first Munster appearance since the 2015 Grand Final with a try, Keatley converting.
With just under 12 minutes to go, Hanrahan and Murray were involved as the hosts went on the offensive down the Blues’ left flank, with Robin Copeland, making his first start of the season, crossing against his former side to hand Munster a bonus point, Keatley converting.
The hosts finished with a flourish as Murray and Keatley combined to tee up Hanrahan for his second try of the game.