Munster’s Valentine’s Day clash with the Isuzu Southern Kings is a vital encounter for two sides who would love a victory at opposite ends of Conference B.
Third-placed Munster lie a point off Scarlets, and four points behind Conference leaders Edinburgh.
The province have won just one of their last four Guinness PRO14 matches, but they have been boosted by the return of considerable talents Chris Farrell and Jack O’Donoghue from the Ireland camp.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan has given highly rated back-row forward John Hodnett his first Guinness PRO14 appearance.
Billy Holland captains Munster once again on his 226th appearance, whilst the team’s top scorer JJ Hanrahan also starts as he tries to build on the 67 points he has acquired in the 19/20 season.
Isuzu Southern Kings lie bottom of the Conference B table with just one win from their opening 10 fixtures.
The Port Elizabeth side arrived in a snowy Cork on Tuesday, and will be seeking an upset.
Edmund Ludick, 21, makes his Kings and Guinness PRO14 debut by starting at wing, replacing the injured Yaw Penxe.
Erich Cronje, who has scored three tries this season, has moved to inside centre after two matches at wing, whilst Christopher Hollis returns to the starting XV at right wing.
Luvolo Dapula will make his first appearance providing loose-forward cover from the bench.
Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli is making his competition debut.
Kick off: Irish Independent Park, Cork | Friday 14th February KO | 19:35pm
How to watch: Live on Premier Sports 2, eir Sport 1, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv
Players to watch out for: Back-row forward John Hodnett makes his debut Guinness PRO14 start for Munster as the squad deals with international absences. The 21-year-old was part of Ireland’s Under-20 Grand Slam winning side last year, and highly tipped to be a future success.
Ruaan Lerm, Kings’ No.8, makes his 50th appearance for the club in Cork on Friday. One of the club’s longest serving players, Lerm forms part of a loose trio alongside Lusanda Badiyana and Bobby de Wee as they try to upset a home side in a rut of poor form.
Key stat: Munster have won all three previous meetings, including their only previous match-up in Cork 43-0.
Munster: Mike Haley, Calvin Nash, Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin, Shane Daly, JJ Hanrahan, Neil Cronin; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland (Capt), Jack O’Donoghue, John Hodnett, Arno Botha
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, Keynan Knox, Gavin Coombes, Chris Cloete, Nick McCarthy, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell
Isuzu Southern Kings: Andell Loubser, Christopher Hollis, Sibusiso Sithole, Erich Cronje, Edmund Ludick, Demetri Catrakilis, Stefan Ungerer; Schalk Ferreira, Jacques du Toit, Rossouw de Klerk, Jerry Sexton, JC Astle (Capt), Lusanda Badiyana, Bobby de Wee, Ruaan Lerm
Replacements: Alandre van Rooyen, Xandre Vos, Ignatius Prinsloo, Aston Fortuin, Thembelani Bholi, Luyolo Dapula, Josh Allderman, Courtney Winnaar
Munster claimed a commanding 68-3 Guinness PRO14 bonus-point victory as they thrashed Isuzu Southern Kings at Irish Independent Park.
Four first half tries set the home side on their way to a resounding win as they dominated at the breakdown and set pieces to control proceedings throughout.
They continued to take the game to a lacklustre Kings in the second 40 minutes and added six further tries to put the seal on an excellent display.
A sixth minute yellow card for Kings man Andell Loubser immediately put Munster on the front foot and they made the most of their extra man just two minutes later.
The opening try was simple in its execution as Arno Botha pulled away at the back of a scrum and went over under the posts before JJ Hanrahan added the extras.
Kings responded well to the early setback and showed good energy to force their way into the Munster 22 and close the deficit to four through a Demetri Catrakilis penalty before being returned to 15, but that was as good as it got for the visitors.
If Munster’s first try was a simple case of power, their second was all about the quick hands of the backs as the hosts shifted the ball to the right wing.
Calvin Nash was the beneficiary as he collected a wide pass and dotted down for what proved to be a maximum score thanks to the metronomic boot of Hanrahan.
The Irish side scored their third just before the half-hour as Botha ran a superb line to collect the ball at pace, drove through a sea of space and powered over from the 22 as Munster made it 21-3.
With a healthy lead in their favour, a bonus-point was now the priority for Munster and they secured it before the half-time break arrived.
Once again, they changed the point of attack to catch the Kings defence napping as Hanrahan’s chipped kick over the top bounced invitingly for Jack O’Donoghue to collect and score.
Hanrahan was typically clinical from the kicking tee and made sure Munster extended their advantage to 25 points by the interval.
With the second period still in its infancy, Munster had their fifth as John Hodnett marked his debut with a superb score on the back of an excellent break by Nash.
The winger weaved past three men before shifting the ball on and Hodnett was then on hand to collect a simple pass and score under the posts.
Neil Cronin then helped himself to the simplest of scores and Hanrahan slotted both conversions as Munster moved into a 42-3 lead.
By now Kings were proving their own worst enemies as a panicked pass inside failed to find its man and Shane Daly had the simplest of tasks to touch down.
Kings would end the game with 14 men after Lusanda Badiyana was shown a yellow card after a coming together with Chris Cloete.
Munster made full use of the extra man as they scored three more tries in the final 10 minutes – first through Dan Goggin and then thanks to Botha’s hat-trick score and a final try from Daly.
Making his debut, Hodnett looked more than at home as he took his place at flanker. He defended superbly in the first half and showed his class with a turnover late in the half.
His big moment came with 50 minutes played as he finished a fine team move to mark his maiden Munster outing with a try.
Munster’s fifth try was a fine effort as Nash darted at the heart of a tiring Kings defence and beat two men before the ball was worked to Hodnett to finish things off.