Munster will aim for their second win on the trot in Wales when they resume their GUINNESS PRO12 campaign with a tricky trip to Rodney Parade tonight.
GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, November 21
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (10th) v MUNSTER (4th), Rodney Parade, 7.30pm
Team News: Head coach Anthony Foley has named a much-changed Munster team to face the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade.
There are seven changes to the Munster side that lined out against Cardiff Blues at the start of the month, Anthony Foley also makes two positional switches with one notable move seeing JJ Hanrahan start at full-back.
In the replacements, South Africa newcomer Pat Howard (pictured below) is in line to make his Munster debut and Dave O’Callaghan is named in his first matchday 23 since last February after successfully rehabbing a knee injury.
With two changes to the front five, hooker Eusebio Guinazu makes his first start for the province while Stephen Archer takes the place of BJ Botha at tighthead prop.
Fresh from making his Ireland debut against Georgia last Sunday, returning international Robin Copeland is named at number 8. Paddy Butler, a try scorer against Cardiff, moves to blindside flanker with Sean Dougall starting at openside.
After making his third appearance for Ireland last weekend, Ian Keatley is also released back to the province – he is partnered at half-back by Cathal Sheridan.
Denis Hurley renews his centre partnership with Andrew Smith and the wing berths are filled by Ronan O’Mahony and Andrew Conway, with Hanrahan wearing the number 15 jersey for the first time.
On the injury front, flanker Barry O’Mahony, who was stretchered off from training on Monday afternoon, underwent surgery on his right ankle in Dublin yesterday. He has been ruled out for the immediate future.
Meanwhile, Dragons director of rugby Lyn Jones has made five changes to the team that played in the record-breaking LV= Cup win over the Ospreys last weekend.
The men of Gwent return to the GUINNESS PRO12 with a boost in confidence after defeating an inexperienced Ospreys side 51-35.
Full-back Geraint Rhys Jones, who deputises for shoulder injury victim Lee Byrne, is joined in the back-three by Tyler Morgan and international winger Hallam Amos, who was released from Welsh camp earlier this week.
The centre pairing of Ross Wardle and Ashley Smith remains in place after impressing last time out, while the 22-year-old Dorian Jones gets the nod at out-half and is joined at half-back by Richie Rees.
South African prop Brok Harris gets his first start in the PRO12 as he moves from tighthead to loosehead. He is joined in the front row by 20-year-old hooker Elliot Dee and prop Dan Way.
Cory Hill and Rynard Landman take their places once again in the second row, with the latter also taking on the role of skipper. The back row has one change made to it as flanker James Thomas is joined by Nic Cudd, who replaces James Benjamin. Number 8 Lewis Evans retains his place.
There are six changes to the replacements bench as Rhys Thomas, Owen Evans, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Jonathan Evans and Ashton Hewitt are all included.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Geraint Rhys Jones; Tyler Morgan, Ross Wardle, Ashley Smith, Hallam Amos; Dorian Jones, Richie Rees; Brok Harris, Elliot Dee, Dan Way, Cory Hill, Rynard Landman (capt), James Thomas, Nic Cudd, Lewis Evans.
Replacements: Rhys Thomas, Owen Evans, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Ollie Griffiths, Jonathan Evans, Jason Tovey, Ashton Hewitt.
MUNSTER: JJ Hanrahan; Andrew Conway, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Cathal Sheridan; John Ryan, Eusebio Guinazu, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan (capt), Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Sean Dougall, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, Alan Cotter, BJ Botha, Dave O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, Pat Howard, Johne Murphy.
Referee: Matteo Liperini (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees, Martyn Lewis (both Wales)
Pre-Match Quotes: Cathal Sheridan (Munster) – “We have a big block coming up, two tough games, the Dragons this week, Ulster the following week, and that’s leading into two big European games.
“I’ve played at the Dragons before. It’s probably one of the hardest grounds to go to and get a win. They fight for every little inch, which is a great trait in a team. It’s probably not going to be one of those games won on skill, more a game that will be won on an extra bit of doggedness.
“We feel much stronger as a squad. Out there (training) today with the internationals away, there were lads hitting the heads off each other, trying to get places for the weekend.
“If you get the chance, you have to be ready. You might not get another for a couple of weeks, maybe months, even a year depending how things work out.
“On the flip side, it gives you great confidence when you see how the lads went up for the internationals and showed they weren’t there to make up the numbers but to be key members of the Irish squad. It gives great belief to the squad down here.
“And it’s always a nice little bonus to have three (of my) UL Bohemian club-mates on the team…a proud day for the club when anything like that happens, ‘Killer’ (Dave Kilcoyne) with the try, Tommy (O’Donnell) had a great performance and Dave (Foley) getting man-of-the-match.”
Lyn Jones (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “Munster have a good blend of overseas, Academy and solid Irish players in their set-up. They’ve had two weeks off to rest while we have been plugging away in the LV= Cup and it will be interesting to see who comes out of that period best.
“Our tactics paid dividends (against the Ospreys), we were very accurate in the first half and our error count was extremely low. It was a really good performance and we will be a little bit more confident for Munster.
“Munster have a very strong side, as we saw at Cardiff Arms Park two weeks ago (when they won 28-24), and they will be very competitive.
“Teams like Munster, the Ospreys, Leinster and Glasgow understand how the Celtic League fixture list draws out over a year and prepare well in advance with a good backbone of overseas players to carry them through these periods.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Angus O’Brien 31; Tries: Richie Rees, Hallam Amos 2 each; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 44; Tries: Simon Zebo 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 3, 2011 – Munster 20 Newport Gwent Dragons 12, Musgrave Park
Saturday, March 3, 2012 – Newport Gwent Dragons 14 Munster 24, Rodney Parade
Saturday, September 22, 2012 – Munster 33 Newport Gwent Dragons 13, Thomond Park
Friday, April 19, 2013 – Newport Gwent Dragons 30 Munster 24, Rodney Parade
Saturday, September 28, 2013 – Munster 23 Newport Gwent Dragons 9, Musgrave Park
Friday, November 29, 2013 – Newport Gwent Dragons 14 Munster 18, Rodney Parade
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have slipped to three straight defeats in the GUINNESS PRO12, while their only league victory this season came at home to Treviso in round 4
– The Dragons have won just twice at Rodney Parade in the PRO12 since February, both times against Treviso, while they have not beaten an Irish province since a 15-8 victory over Ulster in Newport in September 2013
– Munster have lost only one fixture in any competition since the opening game of the new season: 19-14 at home to the Ospreys in the PRO12 on September 27
– The Munstermen have lost just once away from home since March: 16-15 at Glasgow Warriors in last season’s PRO12 semi-final
– The Dragons have won only one of their last seven encounters with Munster: 30-24 at Rodney Parade in April 2013, while Munster’s overall record at the venue is won five and lost six
– The Munstermen have won on four of their last five visits to Wales