Preview: Munster v Cardiff Blues

Date published: February 7 2014

James Coughlan will captain a strong Munster side in Saturday's PRO12 clash against Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park.

James Coughlan will captain a strong Munster side in Saturday's PRO12 clash against Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park.

There are nine changes to the team that beat Edinburgh three weeks ago with two players making their Thomond Park debuts. South African flyer Gerhard van den Heever and back row forward Barry O'Mahony start their first games for Munster at the famous Limerick venue.

Simon Zebo comes in at full-back for his first start since injuring his foot in October with Johne Murphy keeping his place on the left wing. Denis Hurley comes back into the side to partner Casey Laulala in the centres with Duncan Williams and JJ Hanrahan returning to form the half-back combination.

Dave Kilcoyne, Duncan Casey and Stephen Archer make up the front row with Donncha O'Callaghan and Dave Foley in the second-row. O'Mahony is joined in the back row by CJ Stander and captain Coughlan to complete the starting XV.

Sean Dougall and Cathal Sheridan are included on the replacements bench after recovering from recent knocks with Ian Keatley in the squad after featuring for the Irish Wolfhounds two weeks ago.

Young Munster's Ger Slattery provides the front row cover alongside James Cronin and John Ryan. The experienced Billy Holland and winger Andrew Conway are also amongst the replacements.

Niall Scannell is forced to miss out after picking up an elbow knock in yesterday's training session.

Meanwhile, loosehead prop Sam Hobbs returns to the starting line-up to captain Cardiff Blues. Hobbs is one of eight changes to the side that defeated Harlequins in the LV=Cup last time out as Cardiff boss Phil Davies looks to select his most powerful side, despite injuries and international call-ups.

The front row sees Benoit Bourrust pack down with Hobbs and hooker Kristian Dacey. Former Cardiff Blues academy player prop Patrick Palmer is drafted onto the replacement bench from Pontypridd due to injuries.

Lock Chris Dicomidis returns to join Filo Paulo in the second row while Robin Copeland returns from Ireland training to start at number eight against the team he will join this summer.

In the back-line, Dan Fish moves to full-back while Harry Robinson and Chris Czekaj return to take the wing spots. Lloyd Williams is in at scrum-half to partner Gareth Davies at half-back.

Dicomidis said the team were looking forward to the challenge of facing the leaders in their own backyard.

“Saturday is a massive game for us,” he said.

“We are back to the PRO12, after a good win last Friday against Harlequins.

“The boys are really looking forward to the challenge. It's the start of a massive period for us now, four big games in the Rabo and we need to climb up that table.

“Munster are a quality outfit with quality players.

“They have a few boys out on international duty but they have great strength and depth.

“Munster will be a huge challenge for us, but one we are looking forward too. As they are top of the table there will be a huge amount of pressure on them compared to the pressure on us.

“We feel we can go out there and express ourselves and play.”

Form: Munster held on to top spot in the PRO12 despite their 19-29 loss in Ulster in the last round. The Munstermen have won all nine home games they have played in all tournaments this season, and have also won all five games they have played against Welsh Regions in 2013/14. Cardiff Blues ended a four game winless run in the PRO12 with their 21-13 home victory over the Dragons in Round 12. The Blues have not triumphed away from home in the PRO12 since a trip to Edinburgh on 15 February 2013. Munster's only defeat in the last seven fixtures with the Blues was 6-17 at Musgrave Park on 5 January 2013, whilst the Blues have never won in six previous visits to Thomond Park in all tournaments.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Denis Hurley, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 James Coughlan (c), 7 Barry O'Mahony, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Dave Foley, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Duncan Casey, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Ger Slattery, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Sean Dougall, 21 Cathal Sheridan, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Andrew Conway.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Harry Robinson, 13 Owen Williams, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Chris Czekaj, 10 Gareth Davies, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Chris Dicomidis, 3 Benoit Bourrust, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs (c).
Replacements: 16 Marc Breeze, 17 Thomas Davies, 18 Patrick Palmer, 19 James Down, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Simon Humberstone, 23 Isaia Tuifua

Date: Saturday, February 8
Kickoff: 19:15 GMT
Venue: Thomond Park
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Television match official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)