Preview: Munster v Cardiff Blues

Date published: September 8 2016

Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has made just two changes to his starting XV for Friday’s PRO12 clash with Cardiff Blues in Cork.

In an unchanged pack, James Cronin, Niall Scannell and John Ryan form the front-row with Dave Foley and captain Billy Holland again completing the tight five.

Dave O’Callaghan remains at blindside with last weekend’s man-of-the-match Tommy O’Donnell, and Jack O’Donoghue continuing at openside and number eight respectively.

The first change is seen in the half-backs with Ian Keatley coming in at fly-half to partner Duncan Williams.

Rory Scannell and academy centre Dan Goggin continue in midfield with the final change seen at full-back where Andrew Conway makes his first appearance of the season in joining Ronan O’Mahony and Darren Sweetnam in the back three.

Named amongst the replacements, returning international CJ Stander, hooker Duncan Casey and academy full-back Stephen Fitzgerald are all in line to make their first PRO12 appearances of the season.

Casey spent much of last season rehabbing a pectoral tear and if sprung from the bench will make his first competitive appearance since November of last year.

Tyler Bleyendaal was not available for selection after reporting a mild calf strain.

Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues captain Gethin Jenkins returns to the Welsh region’s starting line-up as their head coach Danny Wilson makes four changes for this clash.

Jenkins came off the bench in last week’s bonus-point win over Edinburgh and now starts in the place of Rhys Gill.

He is just one of four Wales internationals that Wilson has recalled with Alex Cuthbert, Gareth Anscombe and Kristian Dacey the others.

A further Wales trio – Josh Turnbull, Sam Warburton and Lloyd Williams – are also set for their first appearances of the season after being named among the replacements.

With their availability and several impressive individual performances against Edinburgh, selection was not straightforward but that is exactly what Wilson wants.

“We have some players back available for selection including a few internationals,” he said.

“We sat round a table as a coaching group and we got the selection headache we wanted in terms of the recruitment that we have done.

“We had some really tough decisions to make. Ultimately some of those decisions are based around winning a game of rugby and secondly making sure we develop a squad.

“I feel we have two players in every position of real quality, if we can keep everyone fit then selection becomes difficult which is what we want.

“If you look at the teams that win things, they do it off the back of a squad. We didn’t have that last year but are beginning to grow that.

“It’s a tough, tough league. We believe we are on the right track to building something but it’s still in that building phase and it will be for a while. We’ve had one week at home but know we have a huge challenge on Friday night.”

Form: Referee Ian Davies becomes only the 12th Official, and fourth Welshman, to take charge of 50 PRO12 matches. Munster have won their last three PRO12 matches, and historically have always been strong starters having lost just once in the opening two rounds since 2009. The Munstermen have won their last four home games at their two venues, but have been defeated just once at Irish Independent Park in their last fourteen matches: 17-21 to Ospreys in February. Cardiff Blues solitary loss in their last seven PRO12 fixtures was 27-40 to Ospreys on “Judgement Day” at Principality Stadium in April. Blues beat Edinburgh in Round 1 but have not won both opening encounters since season 2011/12. The Welshmen’s 37-28 victory at Cardiff Arms Park in Round 12 last season ended a run of five successive Munster victories in this fixture. Cardiff Blues are the only visiting side to have won on three separate occasions in Cork in the PRO12, in seasons 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2012/13.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland (c), 4 Dave Foley, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Brian Scott, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Tomás O’Leary, 22 Cian Bohane, 23 Stephen Fitzgerald

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Corey Allen, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11  Tom James, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Macauley Cook, 4 George Earle, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c)
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 S Andrews, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Loyd Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Matthew Morgan

Date: Friday, September 9
Venue: Irish Independent Park
Kick-off: 19:35 BST (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Gordon Black (Ireland)