Munster will be protecting top spot in the Magners League when they host the Cardiff Blues in Limerick this evening. Tony McGahan’s side lost for the first time in six matches at the Dragons last weekend, and a much-improved performance will be needed here if they are to take the four points.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, December 4
MUNSTER (1st) v CARDIFF BLUES (3rd), Thomond Park, 5pm (live TG4)
Team News: Number 8 Denis Leamy will captain Munster for their Magners League showdown with the Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park on Saturday, with Paul O’Connell set to make his long-awaited return for the province from the bench.
Leamy is joined in the Munster starting line-up by seven other players who featured for Ireland during the recent GUINNESS Series – Keith Earls, Ronan O’Gara, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donncha O’Callaghan and Peter Stringer who gets the nod over Tomas O’Leary.
In all, head coach Tony McGahan has made 12 changes to the team that started last weekend’s 20-6 loss to the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade.
With Scott Deasy, Doug Howlett and Barry Murphy stepping aside, Johne Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi and Keith Earls have been included in a back-line which will be spearheaded by O’Gara and Stringer.
There is an all new front five as Wian du Preez, Varley and Buckley start in the front row and O’Driscoll and O’Callaghan combine in the second row, as they did for Ireland last month.
The two changes in the back row see Alan Quinlan and Leamy link up once again with openside flanker Niall Ronan, the only survivor from the pack that started against the Dragons.
John Hayes and David Wallace, who both saw action in the GUINNESS Series, have been added to an experienced replacements bench, along with the fit-again O’Connell.
The 31-year-old lock has not played for his native province since last January, due to a groin problem and subsequent complications.
He took his first steps back in a 40-minute runout for Young Munster against Shannon last Friday, and will be hoping to improve his match fitness with a cameo role against the Blues.
It is all systems go for the match at Thomond Park. The Limerick venue’s pitch passed an inspection on Friday afternoon.
IRFU referee Peter Fitzgibbon joined Thomond Park Stadium officials and chief groundsman Nick Grene for a 1pm inspection and gave the go-ahead for the game.
The pitch has been covered in a thick layer of straw that will be removed on Saturday afternoon and credit must go to Grene and his hard-working staff for staving off the possibility of a postponement.
Meanwhile, the Cardiff Blues welcome back five internationals to their starting line-up for the trip to Limerick.
Dan Parks and Richie Rees return from international duty and resume their half-back partnership, with Tom Shanklin also returning at centre.
There is one positional change in the backs, with Chris Czekaj moving from the wing to full-back. Gavin Evans will start on the left wing.
In the forwards, Sam Warburton returns from Wales duty to start at openside flanker. In the front row, Gethin Jenkins is back in the Blues number 1 jersey, and hooker Gareth Williams will make his first Magners League start of the season.
Cardiff secured an impressive bonus point victory over Glasgow Warriors (38-6) last weekend, and have won six of their last seven away games in the Magners League.
MUNSTER: Johne Murphy; Lifeimi Mafi, Keith Earls, Sam Tuitupou, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donncha O’Callaghan, Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Dave Ryan, John Hayes, Paul O’Connell, David Wallace, Tomas O’Leary, Paul Warwick, Barry Murphy.
CARDIFF BLUES: Chris Czekaj; Richard Mustoe, Casey Laulala, Tom Shanklin, Gavin Evans; Dan Parks, Richie Rees; Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Williams, Taufa’ao Filise, Michael Paterson, Paul Tito (capt), Ma’ama Molitika, Sam Warburton, Xavier Rush.
Replacements: Rhys Williams, Tom Davies, Sam Hobbs, Bryn Griffiths, Ben White, Tom Slater, Ceri Sweeney, Dafydd Hewitt.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/6; Draw: 22/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 4/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster) – “I don’t really think in terms of what games I’ve played, I just want to play in the next one. In terms of preparation, it is a bit different in that for the past month in international camp, you’re away from home mostly.
“It has to be that way, I know, but then it’s good to get back into your regular routine, be able to be in your own house with your family.
“There wasn’t really too much (too much disruption with the weather). We were due to be in Limerick on Tuesday anyway, just moved from UL to Garryowen and yesterday it was a case of moving from CIT to Stiofan Naofa. So no bother at all, we were well informed at all times.
“Cardiff are a quality side but we’ll look at this for what it is first, the opportunity for Magners League points.
“After that, we’ll get down to preparing for the Ospreys games in the Heineken Cup, but first and foremost this is about league points and that’s where the focus is for the next 30 hours or so.”
David Young (Cardiff Blues) – “Munster is always a tough place to go play, but from our point of view we enjoy going there.
“Our players certainly get up for it and we haven’t got a bad record there. It’s not easy to get the win but we always feel that we’ve performed.
“They will be hurting from the Dragons loss, but I imagine they will brush that under the carpet as they were missing a lot of players and didn’t play very well.
“No team goes throughout the season unbeaten and one thing Munster don’t do is lose many home games. It was a blip, but they’ve been there before and will look at where they went wrong and will be determined to put it right.
“The Blues players who were involved in the internationals just want to get back and play as soon as possible. We are pleased to have them back, and aim to use as many as we can.
“It’s important that we pick up the results and get better as we go along. At the moment we are nowhere near where we were playing at the end of last season.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 68; Tries: Niall Ronan 3; Cardiff Blues – Points: Dan Parks 55; Tries: Casey Laulala, Rhys Thomas 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, October 5, 2007 – Munster 17 Cardiff Blues 19, Musgrave Park
Saturday, March 1, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 25 Munster 22, Arms Park
Saturday, September 20, 2008 – Munster 28 Cardiff Blues 20, Musgrave Park
Sunday, May 10, 2009 – Cardiff Blues 20 Munster 12, Arms Park
Friday, September 11, 2009 – Munster 24 Cardiff Blues 13, Thomond Park
Sunday, May 9, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 13 Munster 12, Cardiff City Stadium
– Munster’s five-match winning run in all competitions ended at the Newport Gwent Dragons last Friday. But Munster have won all six home games they have played this season
– The Cardiff Blues halted a three-game winless streak with their 38-6 victory over Glasgow Warriors last Saturday
– Cardiff have won six of their last seven away games in the Magners League
– The last five clashes between these two teams have all been won by the home side on the day
– The Blues were winless in their four previous visits to thomond Park, although they have triumphed twice against Munster at Musgrave Park