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Preview: Munster v Cardiff Blues

04th January 2013 12:39

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Ronan OGara  Munster

Most caps: Ronan O'Gara

Ronan O'Gara will become Munster's most capped player when he takes the field against Cardiff Blues in Musgrave Park on Saturday.

He will be winning his 233rd competitive cap - one more than Peter Stringer - in the RaboDirect PRO12 encounter that acts as the ideal lead in to the final rounds of European Pool action.

Just four players - skipper Doug Howlett, centre James Downey scrum-half Conor Murray and flanker Tommy O'Donnell - retain their places in the Munster starting XV for the visit of Cardiff Blues to Cork.

Keith Earls returns from injury to partner James Downey in the centre while CJ Stander also returns from injury to be named on the bench

Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues welcome back Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny to the matchday squad to face Munster.

Roberts returns and starts at centre having recovered from an elbow injury picked up in the loss to Australia, while Leigh Halfpenny has a place on the bench having also recovered from a neck/shoulder injury picked up in the same match.

Roberts forms a new centre partnership joining Richard Smith who is set to make his Blues starting debut. The strong running centre is a regular for Wales Sevens, having got his first taste of Sevens during the summer of 2011, where he played for Wales in three of the four legs of the FIRA series - in Bucharest, Barcelona and Moscow. He has previously played for Neath RFC in 2009/10 before spending a season in Australia playing for Brisbane Bulldogs.

There is also a new face on the bench with twenty-two-year-old Romanian prop forward Petru Tamba set to make his Blues debut. Tamba made his Romania debut against Japan in Bucharest last November and also faced the USA the same month.

Scrum half Alex Walker retains his place on the bench from the Dragons victory. The former Wales Under 18 and 19's scrum half started his career with Newport Youth, Newport Gwent Dragons U20, and was part of the Dragons Junior Academy.

Form: Munster have won five of their last six matches in the RaboDirect PRO12. The Munstermen have won just one of their last ten home games in all competitions: 6-13 to Scarlets at Musgrave Park on 25 November. Cardiff Blues' four game losing run in all competitions ended at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on Boxing Day, whilst the Blues' solo away win since September came against Zebre in Parma on 25 November. Cardiff Blues have lost three of their four clashes with Irish provinces this season. Munster have taken their last five encounters with the Blues since the Welshmen won 13-12 at Cardiff City Stadium on 9 May 2010. The Blues have not won on Munster soil since a visit to Musgrave Park on 5 October 2007.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Doug Howlett (c), 13 Keith Earls, 12 James Downey, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Tommy O'Donnell, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Dave Foley, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 David Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Sean Henry, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Billy Holland, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Casey Laulala.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Jason Tovey, 14 Owen Williams, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Lou Reed, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Benoit Bourrust, 2 Rhys Williams, 1 Sam Hobbs.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Paetru Tamba, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Down, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Alex Walker, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.

Date: Saturday, January 5
Kick-off: 19:30
Venue:Musgrave Park
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Michael Black (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
Television match official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)

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