Munster can secure their place in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series if they can defeat the Southern Kings at George’s Outeniqua Park on Saturday evening.
This is the first-ever meeting between the two teams and Munster will be strong favourites against a side with only one victory to their name in what is their inaugural season in the championship.
They come into the game off the back of a dramatic 20-19 victory over Toulon in the quarter-finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup last week while this is the Kings’ first outing since losing 36-35 to Benetton Rugby a fortnight ago.
What’s at stake?
Munster are making their first-ever visit to South Africa and victory would put them out of reach of Cardiff Blues in Conference A and seal a place in the Guinness PRO14 Final Series.
They placed themselves on the brink of qualification with a 19-7 victory over champions Scarlets, who could keep Munster’s hopes of a home semi-final alive if they defeat Glasgow Warriors.
Southern Kings have three games left to lift themselves off the bottom of Conference B as they play their first-ever international franchise fixture in George.
Team news (Southern Kings)
Head coach Deon Davids has named Martin Du Toit at fly-half after Kurt Coleman’s season was ended by the fractured leg he suffered against Benetton.
That is one of three changes the Kings have made from that game, with Yaw Penxe coming in on the left wing for Alshaun Bock and Jacques Nel being given a rare start at inside centre instead of Luzuko Vulindlu.
On the bench, Justin Forwood is included in a matchday squad for the first time this season following his recovery from a long-term knee injury that had kept him out since May 2017.
Team news (Munster)
CJ Stander will captain Munster in what is his hometown as head coach Johann van Graan makes ten changes to the side that defeated Toulon, with Conor Murray one of the players rested.
James Hart stands in for him at scrum-half while the visitors have named a fresh front row, with props James Cronin and John Ryan either side of hooker Niall Scannell.
JJ Hanrahan and Calvin Nash replace Simon Zebo and last week’s try-scoring hero Andrew Conway respectively while Dave Kilcoyne will make his 150th appearance for the province if he comes off the bench.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan said: “Weather-wise, it is totally different from what we are used to in Ireland but also in terms of our preparation, good planning for the game in France in three weeks.
“We were obviously hoping for a positive result in the quarter-final and these are a very important two weeks for us in terms of the PRO14.
“We want to get that home quarter-final spot and for that to happen we need to put in two good performances over here.”
Key battle – Bobby De Wee v Gerbrandt Grobler
Nobody has made more tackles in this season’s Guinness PRO14 than Kings lock Bobby De Wee, who has successfully stopped an opponent in their tracks an impressive 237 times.
De Wee is sure to have his work cut out again but it’s not just in the loose where he’ll have to try to prevent Munster from building too much momentum.
The line-out is another area of strength for the visitors and Gerbrandt Grobler will play a part in trying to maintain that in what is just his second start for the Kings following his delayed introduction due to injury.
Key fact: The Southern Kings have lost all five of their previous matches against Irish provinces this season.
Did you know? Outeniqua Park will become the 43rd different venue to host a Guinness PRO14 match.
Southern Kings: Masixole Banda, Michael Makase, Jacques Nel, Berton Klaasen, Yaw Penxe, Martin Du Toit, Godlen Masimla, Schalk Ferreira, Stephan Coetzee, Pieter Scholtz, Stephan Greeff, Bobby De Wee, Andisa Ntsila, Martinus Burger, Ruaan Lerm.
Replacements: Alandre van Rooyen, Justin Forwood, Luvuyo Papuma, Lubadalo Mtyanda, Lusanda Badiyana, Rudi van Rooyen, Ntabeni Dukisa, Luzuko Vulindlu.
Munster Rugby: JJ Hanrahan, Calvin Nash, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton, Ian Keatley, James Hart, James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Gerbrandt Grobler, Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, David Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Jack Stafford, Stephen Fitzgerald, Robin Copeland.
TV: Live on SuperSport and TG4
Ian Keatley led from the front as Munster kicked off their tour of South Africa with a fine 39-22 win away at the Southern Kings at Outeniqua Park.
Keatley was instrumental as Munster crossed six times, coming from behind to win after trailing narrowly at the break.
Niall Scannell, Calvin Nash, CJ Stander, Dan Goggin, Rhys Marshall and Dave Kilcoyne all scored tries as they closed the gap to seven points to Glasgow Warriors in Conference A.
The Kings stay bottom of Conference B after their 18th loss of the season, just seven points off the Dragons in front.
Munster made a steady start with captain Keatley firing through an early penalty but the hosts, buoyant still from their first ever Guinness PRO14 win against Dragons, had a surprise in store.
A clever kick in behind from Berton Klaasen was latched onto by Michael Makase and he offloaded to Andisa Ntsila to score.
That sent the home fans crazy but it was nothing in comparison to what was about to come. With Munster down to 14 due to Gerbrandt Grobler’s yellow card, Yaw Penxe darted down the left to exploit space.
That stretched Munster and a couple of phases later, Stephen Greef crossed in the corner.
Munster regained their composure and hit back just before the break, with winger Nash sprinting through a big hole on the stroke of half time.
That reduced the gap to two points before the break and gave Munster the momentum, which they capitalised on in the second half.
Keatley jinked past a couple of tackles and was taken down just a metre short, allowing Stander to dive over from close range.
That gave the Irishman a five-point lead and minutes later the bonus-point was confirmed – and in some style.
Nash made a break down the right and fired a pass back inside for Goggin to run in unopposed.
As the game wore on, the Southern Kings became worn down and Munster hit twice more through Rhys Marshall and Dave Kilcoyne.
The Kings did not lack spirit though and Makase finished off a flowing move for their third try of the match at the death.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Prices start at just €35 at www.ticketmaster.ie with tickets available to suit every experience.
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