Two sides returning to Guinness PRO14 action in need of a win – for differing reasons – Munster head to south Wales for their clash with Dragons.
A rip-roaring run of form has dragged the Irish side to the summit of Conference A, while Dragons have work to do if they are to close the gap with Ulster in Conference B.
But the Welsh outfit have claimed some sizeable scalps in recent weeks; Edinburgh Rugby and Ospreys both fell victim to a Dragons blitz, a trick they will look to once more repeat at Rodney Parade.
What’s at stake?
Off the back of a European hiatus, both sides will be keen to hit the ground running when the Guinness PRO14 resumes.
Munster enter the fixture with four wins on the bounce, while they have emerged victorious from 10 of their last 12 encounters in all competitions.
But the Dragons are a force to be reckoned with on home soil, with all of their four Guinness PRO14 wins this season coming at Rodney Parade.
Team News (Dragons):
Ceri Jones has made six changes to the side that lost out to Castres in the Challenge Cup, with fly-half Josh Lewis leading the list of newcomers.
Tyler Morgan and Jack Dixon start together in the midfield, with Will Talbot-Davies and Jordan Williams coming into the back three.
The pack is largely unchanged, with Nic Cudd the only fresh face, slotting into the back row between Ollie Griffiths and Harrison Keddie.
Team news (Munster):
Munster head coach Johann van Graan has made his opposite number’s team selection seem practically conservative, as all but two of his starters from their Champions Cup clash against Exeter Chiefs make way.
Mike Haley and Jean Kleyn are the lucky pair, with Tyler Bleyendaal coming in as captain at inside centre where he’s partnered by Dan Goggin.
Liam O’Connor could make his first Guinness PRO14 appearance of the season as he is named alongside Gavin Coombes on the bench.
Dragons head coach Ceri Jones said: “Munster are a difficult opponent and a top-quality team with lots of power.
“We’ve got to keep on building on our performances.
“We’re aiming to keep the momentum going that we gathered over the festive period in the Guinness PRO14 and take that into this next block of games.”
Munster head coach Johann van Graan said: “There is the whole Six Nations to take place, our focus is on Dragons.
“We have got to improve as a team over this week and all of the weeks that lies ahead. It’s one about the one percenters.
“One lineout, one kick at goal, that one point that we have spoken about so many times, that is the difference in big games.”
Key battle: Jared Rosser v Ronan O’Mahony
Welsh wing Rosser has been at the heart of each of the Dragons’ recent Guinness PRO14 wins at Rodney Parade, and his side will no-doubt look to him for the spark that he can provide.
The 21-year-old notched a brace against Edinburgh before dotting down another against Ospreys as his powerful lines and explosive pace caused problems.
Experienced face O’Mahony will be tasked with keeping the youngster quiet, and with Rosser so important to the Dragons going forward, it’s an important job indeed.
Key stat: Munster have lost on their last two trips to Wales, both against Cardiff Blues at Arms Park in February and September 2018.
Did you know? The Welshmen’s most recent success against an Irish opponent was 21-8 at home to Connacht in September 2017.
Dragons: Jordan Williams, Jared Rosser, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Will Talbot-Davies, Josh Lewis, Rhodri Williams; Brok Harris, Richard Hibbard (c), Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Harrison Keddie, Nic Cudd, Ollie Griffiths
Replacements: Rhys Lawrence, Rhys Fawcett, Dan Suter, Lewis Evans, Taine Basham, Rhodri Davies, Jason Tovey, Zane Kirchner
Munster: Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Tyler Bleyendaal (C), Ronan O’Mahony; Bill Johnston, Alby Mathewson; Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Fineen Wycherley, Conor Oliver, Arno Botha
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Liam O’Connor, Ciaran Parker, Darren O’Shea, Gavin Coombes, Neil Cronin, Calvin Nash, Jaco Taute
TV: Rodney Parade, Newport, 3pm. Live on Premier Sports, TG4, eir Sport
Referee: Ben Blain
Assistant Referees: Keith Allen, Finn Brown
TMO: Dave Pearson
Citing Commissioner: Gwyn Bowden
Jean Kleyn’s second half score helped Munster reclaim top spot in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 after edging out Dragons with a 7-8 win at Rodney Parade.
Swirling winds made for tricky kicking conditions in Newport in a game that saw only two tries scored – Lloyd Fairbrother going over for the hosts in the first half.
Dragons were looking to recover from last weekend’s home defeat at the hands of Benetton Rugby but had Matthew Screech sent to the sin bin in the second half.
And it proved costly as Kleyn scored Munster’s crucial try with a temporary man advantage in the second half – adding to Bill Johnston’s first-half penalty.
Dragons were handed their first opportunity to score points after Munster winger Darren Sweetnam was penalised for a high tackle on Will Talbot-Davies and opted to kick for the corner.
The forwards then piled on the pressure with a powerful drive for the line and it was Fairbrother who lunged over to give Dragons the lead. Josh Lewis converted the resulting kick to make it 7-0 after 15 minutes.
Munster fly-half Johnston reduced the deficit ten minutes later by sending a penalty through the posts.
Munster thought they had done enough to creep in front in first-half stoppage time but after a long look from the TMO, prop Stephen Archer was adjudged to have performed a double-movement and the score was ruled out.
And the TMO was called straight back into action after the restart after as Sweetnam chased a kick through but was deemed to have knocked it out before he could reach the in-goal area.
Soon after Dragons were under growing pressure and saw Screech sent off for ten minutes after pulling the maul down for the third time in as many minutes.
Just five metres out Munster failed to capitalise initially, knocking the ball on and allowing Dragons to clear their lines as the game entered the final 20 minutes.
Much to Dragons disappointment Munster did ultimately take advantage of the extra man and received their just deserts when Johnston took a quick tap releasing Mike Haley to make the break.
Held up a metre out Munster recycled instantly, and second-row Kleyn went over the whitewash. Johnston missed the conversion but for the first time in the game Munster had taken the lead.
Lewis had the opportunity to put Dragons back in front moments after with a penalty but the swirling winds at Rodney Parade made kicking very tricky for both sides and his effort went well wide.
No more scores meant that Munster had the win they needed to go back to the top of Conference A leaving Dragons with back-to-back home defeats.