Munster could stretch their lead at the top of the Magners League to 16 points when they meet the Scarlets at Musgrave Park tonight. Tony McGahan’s charges, currently on a nine-match winning streak, will want to put in a big performance ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, April 24
MUNSTER (1st) v SCARLETS (7th), Musgrave Park, 7.35pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/Setanta Sports 2/BBC Wales)
Team News: Seven of Munster’s eight 2009 Lions have been included in the side to face the Scarlets at Musgrave Park, with Munster and Lions skipper Paul O’Connell, for once, being the odd man out.
The Munster management were, however, quick to confirm that O’Connell will be fit for the following weekend’s trip to Croke Park and the much-anticipated Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster.
The Lions captain was in attendance for both of Munster’s sessions in UL on Wednesday.
O’Connell’s non-participation was purely precautionary as he watched his colleagues go through their paces ahead of the clash with the Scarlets.
On the subject of the title race and Munster’s current 11-point lead, forwards coach Laurie Fisher said: “The Ospreys have got a game in hand, so let’s give them a bonus point win for that game. There’s only six points in it then.
“I think there’s still plenty of football to be played. It’s far from over.”
Meanwhile, 2009 Lions Stephen Jones and Matthew Rees are in the Scarlets squad to face the European champions in Cork.
The pair are due to start on the bench, with Jones set to win his battle with a hamstring problem that saw him miss last Saturday’s home game with the Ospreys.
Rhys Priestland, aged 22, keeps the 10 jersey after impressing against the Ospreys.
Hooker Rees played the full 80 minutes against the Scarlets’ West Wales neighbours. Fellow Welsh international Mark Jones retains the captaincy this weekend, with Sevens World Cup champion Lee Williams keeping his place on the opposite wing.
Prop Deacon Manu is out with an Achilles sprain, back rower Dafydd Jones with a rib cartilage knock.
They are replaced by former Cardiff Blues and Wales Under-21 tighthead Scott Roberts, who makes his Scarlets Magners League debut following a friendly appearance at the Dragons on March 26, and the 23-year-old flanker Rob McCusker.
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Tony Buckley, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Barry Murphy, Denis Hurley.
SCARLETS: Daniel Evans; Mark Jones (capt), Rob Higgitt, Jon Davies, Lee Williams; Rhys Priestland, Martin Roberts; Iestyn Thomas, Mahonri Schwalger, Scott Roberts, Vernon Cooper, Dominic Day, Josh Turnbull, Rob McCusker, David Lyons.
Replacements: Phil John, Matthew Rees, Aaron Shingler, Johnathon Edwards, Gavin Cattle, Stephen Jones, Ceiron Thomas.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: David Keane, Michael Black (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/33; Draw: 50/1; Scarlets to win: 10/1
Say What: Marcus Horan (Munster) – “It’s ultimately in our own hands at the moment and that’s the way we want to keep it. You don’t want to be relying on other teams to do you favours.
“The whole squad are well aware of that. It’s a nice position to be in, to know that if we just keep winning the league will be ours. But there’s a couple of tough games ahead.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “Munster will be a big challenge for us but I’m confident that we can do ourselves justice.
“Our team stood up really well against the Ospreys. We had a lot of young boys out there and we’d had disruptions through the week due to injuries but we fronted up to the challenge.
“In many ways, I was delighted because what we’re starting to see now is the advance of a lot of our younger players, the players who’ll form a bedrock for the future of this region.
“The fact that they’re being exposed to experiences such as the Ospreys and Munster mean that they’ll be in a very strong position as we move forward.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Munster: Paul Warwick 83; Scarlets: Stephen Jones 102; Tries: Munster: Keith Earls, Doug Howlett 7 each; Scarlets: Deacon Manu, Martin Roberts 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Tuesday, May 9, 2006 – Scarlets 18 Munster 6, Stradey Park
Sunday, November 5, 2006 – Scarlets 25 Munster 12, Stradey Park
Saturday, April 14, 2007 – Munster 20 Scarlets 0, Musgrave Park
Saturday, September 22, 2007 – Munster 26 Scarlets 16, Musgrave Park
Saturday, May 3, 2008 – Scarlets 23 Munster 24, Stradey Park
Friday, November 28, 2008 – Scarlets 16 Munster 18, Parc y Scarlets
– Munster have won their last nine games in all competitions since a 37-11 reversal at home to Ulster in the Magners League on January 3
– The Munstermen’s only defeat to a Welsh side in their last dozen encounters was a 25-22 loss to the Blues at the Arms Park in the Magners League on March 1, 2008
– The Scarlets have won just one of their last four matches, 13-6 at home to Edinburgh on March 8. Their only Magners League away win since September was a 17-14 success at Connacht on January 9
– Munster have won their last six games against the Scarlets in all competitions, and the Welshmen have not won on Munster soil since a 19-12 victory at Thomond Park on September 12, 2003