After losing away to the Dragons last time out, Munster are gunning for an improved performance and a win against a side they have traditionally come out on top against. Indeed, tonight’s opponents, the Scarlets, have lost eight Magners League and Heineken Cup matches to Munster over the past three years.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Thursday, March 18
MUNSTER (5th) v SCARLETS (9th), Musgrave Park, 7.35pm (live Setanta Sports 1/S4C)
Team News: Ian Dowling has recovered from the ankle injury he picked up in the game against Edinburgh to take his place in the Munster side for Thursday’s Magners League meeting with the Scarlets.
Also included in the Munster starting line-up is flanker Niall Ronan who was also injured in the win over Edinburgh, while there is a return to action for prop Dave Ryan who has recovered successfully from a shoulder operation.
With Ronan O’Gara and Tony Buckley not available due to international duty, Munster coach Tony McGahan has made eight changes in total to the side that disappointed against the Newport Gwent Dragons last time out.
One of those changes is positional with Paul Warwick slotting in at out-half, while Scott Deasy gets to wear the number 15 jersey.
The accumulation of three yellow cards in the competition means Lifeimi Mafi gets an enforced rest, so Tom Gleeson will partner Jean de Villiers in midfield as he did in the game against Connacht back in December.
Up front it seems a case of freshening things up with hooker Damien Varley starting ahead of Denis Fogarty and Frenchman Julien Brugnaut taking over at tighthead prop from Buckley.
After a good showing in Newport, Billy Holland continues his second row partnership with skipper Mick O’Driscoll.
Ronan’s return to fitness sees him preferred to Tommy O’Donnell in the number 7 jersey, with Dolphin duo Nick Williams and James Coughlan completing the Munster back row.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets have two Wales internationals back in their starting line-up as centre Jonathan Davies and hooker Ken Owens both return from Six Nations training.
Having impressed in the recent win over Ulster, 19-year-old scrum half Tavis Knoyle keeps his starting place in a side that is largely unchanged from that game at Parc y Scarlets.
Powerful winger Joe Ajuwa has also retained the number 14 jersey, while 20-year-old full-back Dan Newton gets another chance to impress.
In addition, Damian Welch is back on the replacements bench, following time out from a planned operation on his ankle.
Player-coach and former Ireland flanker, Simon Easterby, and team captain Mark Jones and his fellow winger Morgan Stoddart are among the Scarlets players ruled out by injury.
MUNSTER: Scott Deasy; Doug Howlett, Tom Gleeson, Jean de Villiers, Ian Dowling; Paul Warwick, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Damien Varley, Julien Brugnaut, Mick O’Driscoll (capt), Billy Holland; Nick Williams, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Dave Ryan, Alan Quinlan, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, Jeremy Manning, Denis Hurley.
SCARLETS: Dan Newton; Joe Ajuwa, Regan King, Jonathan Davies, Andy Fenby; Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle; Iestyn Thomas, Ken Owens, Deacon Manu, Lou Reed, Dominic Day, Josh Turnbull, Richie Pugh, David Lyons (capt).
Replacements: Phil John, Emyr Phillips, Damian Welch, Rob McCusker, Martin Roberts, Dan Evans, Gareth Maule.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, David Connolly (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/4; Draw: 20/1; Scarlets to win: 11/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Shaun Payne (Munster) – “The Scarlets have been playing pretty good rugby and they will have their own goals to aim for.
“They’re not about to come here to make up the numbers. Having said that, we have a lot of guys who did well with the ‘A’ team – there are a good few promising young players, so we’re looking forward to seeing how they go.
“This is another important game for us. There is no doubt, if you want to win a place in the play-offs you must win every home game and pick up a few away from home as well, so we have to make home advantage count.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “We have two historically tough matches to face now away in Munster and Edinburgh. We are just focusing on these two games as the first stage in a very important run-in to the end of the season for us.
“If we can go away and get something out of these next two games, it will put in a relatively strong position moving forward.
“Munster don’t have all their internationals but we know they are still very strong and they always capable of putting in those massive performances as they’ve shown in Europe.
“But we are looking forward to these next two games, we have a certain amount of belief and confidence that we can put in a couple of good performances.
“The boys know that is what we have to do and I was pleased with the way we went against a strong Ulster side. We believe there is an opportunity for us out there.
“We’re a team that is not at full strength because of our international commitments and injuries to some key senior players, but we do have a group of players they have had a lot of game-time together and that puts us in a strong position.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Munster – Points: Jeremy Manning, Ronan O’Gara 30 each; Tries: Nick Williams 4; Scarlets – Points: Rhys Priestland 80; Tries: Jonathan Davies 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, April 24, 2009 – Munster 29 Scarlets 10, Musgrave Park
Saturday, September 19, 2009 – Scarlets 20 Munster 22, Parc y Scarlets
– Munster tripped up 31-22 at the Newport Gwent Dragons last time out in the Magners League. The Munstermen’s last nine matches in the league have all been won by the home side on the day
– The Scarlets won their most recent encounter, 25-8 at home to Ulster in the Magners League on March 5
– The Welsh region’s last win outside of Wales in the league was a 17-14 triumph at Connacht in January 2009
– Munster have won their last eight clashes with the Scarlets in all competitions since the Llanelli-based side’s 24-15 Heineken Cup quarter-final win in March 2007
– The Scarlets have won just once before on Munster, a 19-12 victory at Thomond Park in September 2003