A full complement of Guinness PRO14 rugby kicks off on Friday night when high-flying Munster host the Isuzu Southern Kings with both sides looking to notch a statement win as they settle back into regular action in the competition.
What’s at stake?
A run of standout results has carried Munster all the way to the top of Conference A, giving them the imposing mantle of the Guinness PRO14’s form side along the way.
Seven wins from their last eight go to show that Johann van Graan’s are a side not to be messed with as they continue their search for a first title since 2011.
For the Kings’ part, a narrow defeat to South African rivals Toyota Cheetahs in Round 12 will leave them desperate to respond.
They’ll take heart from their emphatic 25-21 triumph over Edinburgh Rugby in January, a match that saw one of the tries of the season when Yaw Penxe crossed to seal victory for the hosts.
Team news (Munster)
Van Graan makes seven changes to the side that ground out an 8-7 win at Rodney Parade over the Dragons last time out.
Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Niall Scannell, John Ryan and Billy Holland mark their returns from international duty in a side that sees Tyler Bleyendaal captain from out-half.
Chris Cloete starts in the back row for the first time since recovering from a neck injury in December, while JJ Hanrahan makes the bench after being passed fit following hip troubles.
Team news (Southern Kings)
Thrilling fly-half prospect Bader Pretorius is handed his first start after making his debut from the bench against Edinburgh.
Berton Klaasen starts outside him, paired in the centres with Meli Rokoua, while loose-forward Stephan de Wit comes in for CJ Velleman at openside flanker.
The rest of Deon Davids’ XV remains unchanged as his side prepare for a tricky trip to Cork.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan said: “I think you’ve got to give the Kings a lot of credit. I think they’ve been doing really well in South Africa in the summer.
“They’ve got a lot of speed and the way they came back to beat Edinburgh was very impressive. They’re a difficult opponent. We’ve had a few weeks off and all the focus will be on ourselves to put in a quality performance.”
Isuzu Southern Kings captain JC Astle said: “Munster are a very clinical side and are on top of Conference A, so we are expecting a hard match with clinical, good players who know how to do their job.
“The aim of the tour, after we have had a few good games in the past few weeks, is to improve on that. Getting a good start. It will be nice to go into the last two matches of the tour with heightened confidence and giving stern competition to some good teams.”
Andrew Conway v Yaw Penxe
Van Graan will be delighted to have his star flyer back and at his disposal considering the season that the 27-year-old is enjoying.
But he is up against another of the Guinness PRO14’s most dangerous wingers, with Penxe posing a threat from anywhere on the pitch with his electric pace.
With both sides looking to the pair for points, it could well be the case that Conway and Penxe hold the keys in this one.
Key fact: The Munstermen are unbeaten in their last 17 home games at their two venues in all tournaments, a run which includes one draw, against Ulster in April.
Did you know? The two side have met just once before with Munster winning 39-22 in George last April.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam; Tyler Bleyendaal (C), Neil Cronin; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Fineen Wycherley, Chris Cloete, Arno Botha
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Liam O’Connor, Stephen Archer, Darren O’Shea, Gavin Coombes, Alby Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, Dan Goggin
Isuzu Southern Kings: Masixole Banda, Yaw Penxe, Meli Rokoua, Berton Klaasen, Bjorn Basson, Bader Pretorius, Stefan Ungerer; Schalk Ferreira, Michael Willemse, De-Jay Terblanche, Andries Van Schalkwyk, John-Charles Astle (C), Stephan De Wit, Martinus Burger, Ruaan Lerm
Replacements: Alandre Van Rooyen, Alulutho Tshakweni, Pieter Scholtz, Stephan Greeff, Andisa Ntsila, Sarel Pretorius, Tertius Kruger, Ulrich Beyers
TV: At Irish Independent Park, Cork, 7.35pm. Live on eir Sport and Freesports
Referee: Andrea Piardi
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Matteo Liperini
TMO: Alan Falzone
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh
Darren Sweetnam finished a marvellous Munster move to get the pick of the tries as they beat Isuzu Southern Kings 43-0 in Guinness PRO14.
Neil Cronin and Andrew Conway’s first-half scores put Munster in control at Irish Independent Park, before Sweetnam and Billy Holland touched down to secure the bonus-point win early in the second period.
Rhys Marshall, Jean Kleyn and Rory Scannell added three more tries in the final quarter, as Munster solidified their position at the top of Conference A.
The visitors started the stronger, carrying the ball with power around the fringes to work their way up field. But they could not make it count, with several errors when they were deep in the Conference A leader’s half.
Munster made them pay with one of their first entries into the opposition 22.
A driven lineout from five metres out could not quite get over the line but the ball was recycled before Cronin took his chance to dart through a gap to touch down.
On the half-hour the Irish No.9 had a chance to seemingly spread the ball wide for his team to score but his pass was wayward.
Munster stayed in the ascendancy as the half went on, as Southern Kings struggled to clear their lines in the strong winds. It got worse for the visitors just before half-time when No.8 Ruan Lerm was sinbinned for illegal play at the ruck.
The hosts did not take long to make the most of the man advantage, Tyler Bleyendaal’s pass gave Conway a gap to power through and score, leaving it 12-0 at the break.
The South African side started brightly but they conceded two more tries in quick succession, Sweetnam got the first as he latched onto back-to-back kicks through after the ball went wide.
Holland made sure it was a bonus-point win on the hour after he was shunted over the line by two teammates after Munster went through the phases with the ball at close quarters.
It was more of the same when the Irish outfit grabbed their next two scores, with Marshall and Kleyn both touching down following lineouts deep in the Kings half.
Scannell added the seventh right at the death as Bader-Werner Pretorius, making his first start for the visitors, lost the ball in the tackle inside his own 22.
The inside-centre, who finished with 13 points, scooped it up and ran in under the posts to complete the triumph.