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Preview: Munster v Dragons

25th September 2009 10:50

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Jean de Villiers training hat

Benched: Jean de Villiers

Munster have named new marquee signing Jean de Villiers on the bench for Sunday's home fixture against the Dragons at Musgrave Park.

Head Coach Tony McGahan has however opted to push Donncha O'Callaghan back into first-team action, with the British & Irish Lions second-row starting alongside Mick O'Driscoll for his Magners League 2009/10 season debut.

Fellow Lion Ronan O'Gara is also named in the starting XV for the first time this term as is the promising Keith Earls for the sold-out clash.

Earls has been named at full-back in place of new signing Felix Jones, who moves to the wing, with Denis Hurley on the other flank midfield pairing of Barry Murphy and Lifeimi Mafi.

Paul O'Connell who had been named in the original squad was not considered due to a slight hamstring problem.

The injury that Niall Ronan suffered in the Scarlets game and the continued absence of David Wallace means Tommy O'Donnell gets to wear the number seven jersey while Nick Williams returns from a knee injury to anchor the scrum.

"I can't wait to get back into it. I'm not use watching games. I just love to be playing." said O'Callaghan, speaking to the province's website.

"I understand the thinking in keeping us [Ireland internationals] out of it for the opening rounds. And it works to our benefit.

"It's a long season what with internationals and that but still I'd be in there from the start if I could."

Meanwhile, Dragons centre Ashley Smith is to captain the Men of Gwent for the second time this season. The 22 year old has also signed a 3-year extension with the region, keeping him at Rodney Parade until 2013.

Smith, who was a graduate of the Dragons Academy, has been with the region since 2005, making his debut in a friendly against Worcester Warriors. At 22 he has played 58 matches for the Dragons and represented Wales at every age-grade level.

"I'm very proud to be captaining the Dragons again this weekend," he said.

"I'm a local boy and I have had great opportunities with the region. There is a real buzz around Rodney Parade this season and it's a good place to be. It's always an honour to represent your local side and having come through the age-grade and academy setups, I'm confident that my future lies with the Dragons.

"Munster are always going to be a massive challenge. They have a formidable side and with the return of their Irish internationals and of course the debut of Jean de Villiers, they have an impressive team sheet for Sunday's game, but we are all playing for each other and that counts for a lot."

Form: Munster have won their last five encounters with the Dragons, whilst the Dragons' only win on Munster soil was 16-6 at Thomond Park on their first ever visit on 12 March 2004. Defending Magners League champions Munster have won three of their last four games in the competition. The Munstermen have won their last eight home games in all competitions including four in a row at Musgrave Park. Munster have lost just one of their last 13 games against Welsh opponents in all competitions: 12-20 at Cardiff Blues on 10 May. The Dragons have won three of their last four games in the Magners League, but have lost five in a row away from home in the competition. The Dragons' only win in Ireland since October 2004 was 16-14 at Ulster on 19 September 2008.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Keith Earls, 14 Felix Jones, 13 Barry Murphy, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Denis Hurley, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Nick Williams. 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Donncha O'Callaghan, 4 Mick O'Driscoll, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Denis Fogarty, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Damian Varley, 17 Julien Brugnaut, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 James Coughlan, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Jeremy Manning, 22 Jean de Villiers.

Dragons: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Aled Brew, 13 Tom Riley, 12 Ashley Smith (c), 11 Richard Fussell, 10 James Arlidge, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Joe Bearman, 7 James Harris, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Rob Sidoli, 4 Adam Jones, 3 Nigel Hall, 2 Steve Jones, 1 Hugh Gustafson.
Replacements: 16 Duane Goodfield, 17 Ali McKenzie, 18 Gethin Robinson, 19 Grant Webb, 20 Hoani MacDonald, 21 Shaun Connor, 22 Danny Lee.

Date: Sunday, September 27
Kick-off: 17:05 BST
Venue: Musgrave Park
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: J Carvill (IRFU), D Connolly (IRFU)
TMO: Brian Fitzgerald (IRFU)

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