CARDIFF BLUES (8th) v MUNSTER (1st), Cardiff Arms Park, 6.30pm (live RTÉ Two/S4C)
Team News: The Munster team to face Cardiff Blues in round 8 of the RaboDirect PRO12 in the Welsh capital on Saturday has been named.
Felix Jones, Donncha O'Callaghan, James Coughlan, Stephen Archer and Mike Sherry have all been released from the Ireland camp, with Jones starting at full-back and the latter quartet among the replacements.
Munster head coach Rob Penney has made five changes to the team that beat the Ospreys in the province's last outing at Thomond Park.
David Kilcoyne drops to the replacements bench, with James Cronin coming into the front row alongside BJ Botha and hooker Damien Varley who captains the side.
The only other change in the forwards sees Billy Holland return in the second row ahead of Donncha O'Callaghan. He joins fellow lock David Foley in the starting line-up.
There are three changes in the backs division with Cathal Sheridan coming in for Duncan Williams at scrum half and JJ Hanrahan will earn his 20th cap for Munster as he replaces the injured Ian Keatley at out-half.
The centre partnership of Ivan Dineen and former Cardiff Blue Casey Laulala remains intact, while Andrew Conway resumes on the right wing.
Academy player Johnny Holland is named on the bench and could make his first RaboDirect PRO12 appearance for Munster.
The 22-year-old out-half plays his club rugby with Cork Constitution and featured in the SEAT Series against Gloucester and London Irish, but has yet to make his competitive bow.
The returning Denis Hurley is also named among the replacements after a spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.
Second row Ian Nagle is on the comeback trail too and although he has not been named in the Munster squad, he could feature for Cork Con in the Ulster Bank League this weekend.
Meanwhile, loosehead prop Sam Hobbs will again captain the Cardiff Blues as the Welsh region returns to RaboDirect PRO12 action against league leaders Munster.
The Blues make a total of five changes to the side that defeated the Ospreys 21-13 away in the LV= Cup last weekend.
A new-look back row sees flankers Andries Pretorius and Josh Navidi declared fit to join forces with Irish number 8 Robin Copeland. Prop Taufa'ao Filise is also recalled to the front row in the final change to the home pack.
Scrum half Lewis Jones is named among the backs, partnering out-half Simon Humberstone for his first start for the region at the Arms Park, while Tom Williams will start at full-back.
Gareth Davies returns among the replacements while there could be first ever appearance for Academy scrum half Tomos Williams, with the Wales Under-18 international on the replacements bench.
Cardiff remain without a number of players due to injuries and international call-ups, with Bradley Davies and Cory Allen joining the injury list this week after playing for Wales in the autumn internationals.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, Casey Laulala, Ivan Dineen, Johne Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, Cathal Sheridan; James Cronin, Damien Varley (capt), BJ Botha, David Foley, Billy Holland, David O'Callaghan, Sean Dougall, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, David Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Donncha O'Callaghan, James Coughlan, Duncan Williams, Johnny Holland, Denis Hurley.
CARDIFF BLUES: Tom Williams; Richard Smith, Gavin Evans, Dafydd Hewitt, Chris Czekaj; Simon Humberstone, Lewis Jones; Sam Hobbs (capt), Kristian Dacey, Taufa'ao Filise, Macauley Cook, James Down, Andries Pretorius, Josh Navidi, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Rhys Williams, Thomas Davies, Benoit Bourrust, Thomas Young, Rory Watts-Jones, Luke Hamilton, Tomos Williams, Gareth Davies.
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Greg Morgan, Justin Williams (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Paul Adams (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 7/4; Draw: 25/1; Munster to win: 4/9
Pre-Match Quotes: Casey Laulala (Munster) - "It's great (so far this season), there's a lot more clarity to what we're doing and we're not over thinking things.
"I think most of the heartaches from last year have really paid off this year in terms of experience and really getting hold of what we're trying to achieve here. Also, we're one year further down the line in what we're trying to do.
"The boys want to play well to really establish themselves and the way we're playing is not new to us, so it's just a matter of turning up mentally and playing well at the weekend.
"We must win the next two games in order to be on top of the Rabo and we'll be trying to evolve our game again and that can give us a confidence boost heading into the ERC games (against Perpignan).
"It will be good going back (to Cardiff) but it's different now, most of the boys who were there when I was there have moved on or retired.
"It's always exciting going back there but it will be strange playing on that new pitch, we trained last week on the 4G pitch in UL, it wasn't too bad but it will be a good experience.
"It's great (to have played in eight of Munster's nine games to date), it's all about managing the body at the moment and so far there are no injuries so I'm able to play normally. Touch wood the body holds up, but so far so good and that's the main thing for us, keeping everybody healthy."
Phil Davies (Cardiff Blues) - "It's a challenging time of the year with players away on international duty and injuries biting. But you have to plan well and I enjoy this time of season.
"We are giving the squad a real test. We have over 20 players unavailable to us because of injuries and call-ups, but what that does is give other people opportunities.
"The players who have been given a chance recently have really stood up and done well and we are excited about what we are trying to develop.
"Munster have changed a lot over the last year or so, but they are top of the league at this stage so you have to give them huge respect for that.
"A lot has work has gone on in recent seasons with the era that contained the likes of Ronan O'Gara, Tomas O'Leary, David Wallace and Alan Quinlan coming to an end.
"A lot of new players have come to the fore and Munster have changed their style. It is clearly suiting them because they are top of the table and playing well. It's a big test for us at home and an exciting one as we return to league action."
Top Scorers - 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Cardiff Blues - Points: Leigh Halfpenny 58; Tries: Alex Cuthbert 3; Munster - Points: JJ Hanrahan 57; Tries: CJ Stander, James Cronin, Keith Earls, JJ Hanrahan 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, December 4, 2010 - Munster 16 Cardiff Blues 9, Thomond Park
Friday, March 25, 2011 - Cardiff Blues 15 Munster 16, Cardiff City Stadium
Friday, September 23, 2011 - Cardiff Blues 13 Munster 18, Cardiff City Stadium
Friday, February 24, 2012 - Munster 16 Cardiff Blues 13, Thomond Park
Friday, November 2, 2012 - Cardiff Blues 18 Munster 24, Cardiff Arms Park
Saturday, January 5, 2013 - Munster 6 Cardiff Blues 17, Musgrave Park
- Cardiff Blues' last four games in the RaboDirect PRO12 have all been won by the home side on the day, while their only victory over an Irish province in their last six fixtures was 21-10 at home to Connacht on September 13
- Munster have lost only one of their last six matches in all competitions: 29-23 to Edinburgh at Murrayfield in the Heineken Cup on October 12
- The Munstermen have won both of their clashes with Welsh regions so far this season
- The Blues' 17-6 victory in Cork last January ended their five-match losing run against Munster, while the men in red have not lost to the Blues in Wales since 2010
|4/3/17||Cardiff Blues||13 - 23||Munster Rugby||6,546|
|9/9/16||Munster Rugby||23 - 24||Cardiff Blues||7,405|
|18/3/16||Cardiff Blues||37 - 28||Munster Rugby||5,017|