Munster will field a largely experimental team for their Magners League meeting with the Scarlets tonight. The table toppers need just one more point to secure home advantage in next month’s semi-finals.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, April 16
SCARLETS (6th) v MUNSTER (1st), Parc y Scarlets, 6.15pm (live TG4/S4C)
Team News: Munster head coach Tony McGahan rings the changes for the trip to Llanelli with just three players, Lifeimi Mafi, Mick O’Driscoll and Denis Leamy, retained in the team from last weekend’s win in Brive.
Mafi and O’Driscoll hold onto their starting berths at centre and in the second row respectively, while Leamy switches to number 8 and the Cashel man will captain the side.
Six of the replacements for last Saturday’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final victory over Brive start this time around, the exception being John Hayes who again provides back-up for the front row.
Denis Hurley was expected to make a return to action but tweaked a hamstring in training on Thursday and that means a start for youngster Danny Barnes on one wing with another young gun, Simon Zebo, on the other.
Commenting on the changes, McGahan said: “After three challenging weeks previous to this away trip to Scarlets, a rotation of the playing group allows us to rest many of the starters coming into a busy and competitive period.
“It also allows for competition within the squad for opportunities across the 23 and there is no better place or opposition for players to test themselves than the Scarlets at their home ground.”
Meanwhile, the Scarlets will field a strong back-line with returning Scotland international Sean Lamont starting on the left wing, and Gareth Maule and New Zealander Regan King forming the centre partnership.
Wales centre Jonathan Davies, the Scarlets’ top try scorer in this season’s league, is still recovering from the dead leg injury he sustained against Ulster.
Morgan Stoddart will take his place at full-back with George North and Lamont completing the back-three. Rhys Priestland will start at out-half, with Wales’ Stephen Jones, who injured his wrist against Ulster, included on the replacements bench.
Australian number 8 David Lyons returns at number 8 after recovering from a knee injury. Ben Morgan misses out with a slight hamstring strain and Peter Edwards is sidelined with a bruised shoulder.
SCARLETS: Morgan Stoddart; George North, Regan King, Gareth Maule, Sean Lamont; Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle; Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees (capt), Rhys Thomas, Lou Reed, Josh Turnbull, Rob McCusker, Johnathan Edwards, David Lyons.
Replacements: Emyr Phillips, Rhodri Jones, Simon Gardiner, Aaron Shingler, Damian Welch, Gareth Davies, Stephen Jones, Scott Williams.
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Simon Zebo, Johne Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Danny Barnes; Declan Cusack, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, Donnacha Ryan, Mick O’Driscoll, Tommy O’Donnell, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Darragh Hurley, John Hayes, Alan Quinlan, Paddy Butler, Duncan Williams, Sam Tuitupou, Scott Deasy.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, Huw Griffiths (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: 2/7; Draw: 22/1; Munster to win: 5/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Johne Murphy (Munster) – “It was great to get the win in Brive but our defence was disappointing after leaking four tries. We had a very harsh team meeting on Tuesday when Axel (Anthony Foley) described it as one of our worst defensive performances in about five years.
“We were delighted to score some unbelievable tries but there were a couple of aspects to our game that weren’t up to standard.
“Our defence and set piece let us down and it was the sharpness of our back-three (Felix Jones, Doug Howlett and Keith Earls) which won us the game.
“We’ve a lot to work on and we know it wasn’t anywhere near the complete performance. With the amount of missed tackles we had, in fact, it wasn’t a performance to be proud of.
“We have a realistic ambition to win all the remaining games. At the start of the season, I remember we were setting goals saying we wanted to have a certain amount of points from a certain amount of games.
“Doug stood up and said that’s not the way it should be, that we should be looking to win every game and not even thinking about looking for losing bonus points.
“On that basis we have set ourselves a 10-week target and we have three down so far. That target was to have 10 out of 10 at the end and that’s what we’re going for.
“The positive thing is competitiveness is driving guys forward and hopefully will drive us to victory. We probably have the toughest run-in of the challenging teams but we have great belief in our (squad) system.”
Matthew Rees (Scarlets) – “We have to win our next three games and on Saturday we have a tough, physical challenge ahead of us – we know how good Munster are in the contact area.
“They are the best team in the league and they’re not top for nothing. They have strength in their squad, they are an old and experienced team that’s gained a lot of success with the players they’ve got. No matter what team they field, they’ll play with confidence and pace.
“I thought we played some great stuff out in Ulster, it was one of our best defensive performances this season and we held them.
“The game was there for us, it was frustrating in terms of the outcome, but we put in a performance at Ravenhill and I couldn’t fault the endeavour from the players that night.
“The most important thing is getting your own house in order, set piece is key against them.
“On our day we can compete with any pack of forwards, the great thing is that our pack is willing to work, carry ball, hit rucks and share the workload and that’s what you need when you come up against a top team like Munster.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Scarlets – Points: Rhys Priestland 144; Tries: Jonathan Davies 9; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 147; Tries: Doug Howlett 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Thursday, March 18, 2010 – Munster 23 Scarlets 17, Musgrave Park
Sunday, November 21, 2010 – Munster 27 Scarlets 26, Musgrave Park
– Munster have won their last ten clashes with the Scarlets in all competitions since a 24-15 defeat in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup in March 2007
– The Scarlets’ last four games have all been won by the home side on the day
– The Welsh region’s only home Magners League defeat in their last six matches at Parc y Scarlets was an 18-16 loss to Ulster on February 18
– The Scarlets are winless in their last six encounters with Irish opponents
– Munster have won their last six games in all competitions, including three in-a-row away from home
– The province’s only loss to a Welsh team in the Magners League last season was a 20-6 reversal at the Newport Gwent Dragons