After letting a lead slip to Connacht last week Munster will be looking to get back to winning ways when they welcome the Dragons to Irish Independent Park in Cork on Friday evening. The game, which kicks off at 7.35pm, pits two teams who have lost their last two Guinness PRO14 fixtures against one another.
What’s at stake? Trailing Glasgow Warriors by 12 points at the top of Conference A, Munster know they cannot afford to lose any more ground on the Scots if they are to stay in the fight for the top seed. The Dragons, meanwhile, currently sit eight points off the European play-off spot in Conference B, which is occupied by Edinburgh.
Team news (Munster): The big news for Munster is a debut for South African flanker Chris Cloete who joined from the Southern Kings in the summer. He comes into the back row alongside Jack O’Donoghue and Robin Copeland. Also featuring are Darren Sweetnam and Chris Farrell, after they were released for the game by Ireland, as was Ian Keatley on the bench. Billy Holland captains the side and will make his 170th Munster appearance.
Team news (Dragons): Bernard Jackman has made ten changes to the side that went down to the Ospreys last week with a number of players on international duty. That means that James Benjamin captains the team from the back row alongside Aaron Wainwright and James Sheekey. Elsewhere Will Talbot-Davies comes in for Hallam Amos at full-back while Angus O’Brien and Charlie Davies form a new-look half-back pairing
Talking points: At just 20 years of age Aaron Wainwright has enjoyed a rapid rise through to the Dragons senior team, playing 70 minutes last week after coming on for James Thomas. Wainwright admits he was not expecting such an expanded role this season but is relishing the opportunities afforded to him by Bernard Jackman.
He said: “I am just enjoying getting a bit of action in the team and I didn’t expect any of this. I was playing at Cardiff Met last year and was meant to be with Newport RFC but after a couple of injuries I was thrown in at the deep end.
“I am just trying to work hard, keep my head down and have a couple of good games by making an impact.”
Key Battle: Alex Wootton v Ashton Hewitt
The Munster back three is packed with talent and in what is looking like a breakthrough season for Alex Wootton, he will be one to watch on Friday. He goes up against Ashton Hewitt, one of the Dragons’ star performers last year. Both born in 1994, Hewitt is six months younger but has broken through sooner only for injuries to disrupt his progress slightly. Wootton stood out in round two with four tries against the Cheetahs, and their head-to-head match-up will be worth watching.
Key Stat: Munster have lost just twice at home since the start of last season, but both times to Welsh opposition, the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues. The defeat to the Blues was also the last time they lost in Cork.
Did you know? Dragons’ only victory away to Munster came in their first-ever trip there, back in 2004. Since then, the Irish province have got the better of their Welsh counterparts at home, particularly in Cork where the Dragons have never won.
Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams; Liam O’Connor, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, James Cronin, Brian Scott, Darren O’Shea, Mark Flanagan, James Hart, Ian Keatley, Sam Arnold.
Dragons: Will Talbot-Davies; Ashton Hewitt, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Jared Rosser; Angus O’Brien, Charlie Davies; Thomas Davies, Gerard Ellis, Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Rynard Landman, Aaron Wainwright, James Benjamin, James Sheekey.
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Luke Garrett, Brok Harris, Scott Andrews, Ben Roach, Sarel Pretorius, Arwel Robson, Pat Howard.
Match officials – Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU), AR1: Keith Allan (SRU), AR2: John Carvill (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
JJ Hanrahan put in a masterful performance to guide Munster to a 49-6 bonus point victory over the Dragons at Irish Independent Park.
Rory Scannell and Simon Zebo both touched down in the first half with Jack O’Donoghue and Darren Sweetnam securing the bonus point in the second period.
Replacements Sam Arnold, two, and Kevin O’Byrne added the further tries as Munster kept the pressure on Glasgow Warriors at the top of the Conference A.
Angus O’Brien kicked the Dragons’ only points at Irish Independent Park who haven’t won at Munster since their first trip to the Irish province back in 2004.
Hanrahan’s brilliant break was vital to Munster’s first try with the fly-half finding Rory Scannell to dive over in the corner with 20 minutes played.
After creating the score, the Munster number ten added the extras from the touchline to extend the home side’s advantage.
The hosts were pegged back soon after though as South African flanker Chris Cloete, on his debut, was adjudged to have not released in the tackle and O’Brien kicked the Dragons’ first penalty.
Winger Zebo then took his Munster try tally to 57 as he found space to dot down in the corner with Hanrahan’s reliable boot making it 14-3 to the home side.
The Dragons had the ideal start to the second 40 when O’Brien again slotted a penalty but again the visitors’ resistance proved to be short lived.
With turnover ball, Robin Copeland was able to break upfield and offload to Sweetnam who found flanker O’Donoghue who stormed over for Munster’s third try of the evening.
Hanrahan was once again able to add the extras as Munster led 21-6 with 49 minutes played at Irish Independent Park.
And Sweetnam was on the end of a long and lofted Hanrahan pass to secure Munster’s try bonus point inside an hour mark. The fly-half converted once again.
Munster weren’t stopping there either as Hanrahan earned his third assist by feeding replacement centre Arnold who ran through unchallenged to make it 35-6.
The hosts thought they were over again with 66 minutes with a driving maul but the TMO decided the ball had been held up.
Munster’s dominance at the line-out continued though and replacement hooker O’Byrne was over the whitewash three minutes later to make it 42-6.
Arnold crossed for his second of the night late on with Hanrahan’s successful touchline conversion keeping up his perfect night with the boot.
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 can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie