Munster will test out a number of new combinations, including a centre pairing of Casey Laulala and Ian Keatley, as they bid to sign off before the November internationals with a third straight win.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, November 2
CARDIFF BLUES (7th) v MUNSTER (5th), Cardiff Arms Park, 7.05pm (live TG4/BBC 2 Wales)
Team News: With most of the province’s Ireland contingent unavailable, Munster head coach Rob Penney has again rung the changes for Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash with the Cardiff Blues in the Welsh capital.
One of the Ireland internationals who has been released from the Carton House camp is Ronan O’Gara who returns from injury to take his place in the Munster starting line-up.
O’Gara slots back in at out-half alongside Duncan Williams with Ian Keatley, who wore the number 10 jersey against Zebre, moving across to the inside centre berth.
Doug Howlett, who was rested for the Zebre game, is back on the right wing while Felix Jones naturally retains the number 15 jersey, knowing that a good performance at Cardiff Arms Park could propel him into the Ireland squad.
Up front, Marcus Horan is the one change in the front row but there is a new combination of David Foley and Billy Holland in the second row.
Sean Dougall returns to the openside flanker spot and Tommy O’Donnell wears the number 8 shirt for the first time at senior level.
Meanwhile, the Cardiff Blues have been forced into a late change for the game with their South African captain Andries Pretorius pulling out with a rib injury.
Former St. Mary’s College ace Robin Copeland will move across to the number 8 slot with youngster Luke Hamilton added set to start at blindside flanker. Thomas Young has been added to the bench.
Blues director of rugby Phil Davies has made a series of changes to the team that started last weekend’s 59-22 defeat to Leinster in Dublin.
Dan Fish, Tom Williams, Gavin Evans and Lewis Jones come into the back-line with Dafydd Hewitt shifting to inside centre to cover for the Wales-tied Jamie Roberts.
Roberts is training with the Welsh squad ahead of their November internationals and the Blues are also missing the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Sam Warburton and Bradley Davies.
In the forwards, Campese Ma’afu and Rhys Williams have been added to the front row and Davies’ place in the second row has been taken by Lou Redd. Josh Navidi retains the number 7 jersey.
CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Tom Williams, Gavin Evans, Dafydd Hewitt, Tom James; Jason Tovey, Lewis Jones; Campese Ma’afu, Rhys Williams, Taufa’ao Filise, Lou Reed, James Down, Luke Hamilton, Josh Navidi (capt), Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Sam Hobbs, Ryan Harford, Macauley Cook, Thomas Young, Rob Lewis, Ceri Sweeney, Owen Williams.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett (capt), Casey Laulala, Ian Keatley, Luke O’Dea; Ronan O’Gara, Duncan Williams; Marcus Horan, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, David Foley, Billy Holland, David O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall, Tommy O’Donnell.
Replacements: Damien Varley, John Ryan, Wian du Preez, Ian Nagle, Paddy Butler, Peter Stringer, Danny Barnes, Johne Murphy.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies, Martyn Lewis (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Paul Adams (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 15/8; Draw: 22/1; Munster to win: 4/9
Pre-Match Quotes: Rob Penney (Munster) – “That (display last week) wasn’t a true Cardiff performance, Leinster were on fire and Cardiff not quite up to speed.
“This disappointing run for them can’t go on forever, they’re a capable side with a lot of quality players – it has to turn around at some point.
“Ourselves, we need to be more consistent. We need to be disciplined for longer periods of time and to be able to create pressure.
“When we have the foot on the throat we need to be able to leave it there, not let the opposition up for a gulp of air.”
Phil Davies (Cardiff Blues) – “It was clear for all to see that last weekend’s game against Leinster wasn’t a very positive night for us. We all knew when we started in June that it would be a massive challenge.
“Looking at the game we have ahead of us, Munster, regardless of what fifteen they put on the pitch they are going to be hard and uncompromising up-front.
“Casey Laulala is always a threat and is likely to start, but we are looking forward to facing him on our home ground.
“Both sides have got a new coaching group who are trying to develop and change. Supporters can look forward to a very competitive match, as it always is against Munster.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Cardiff Blues – Points: Rhys Patchell 25; Tries: Alex Cuthbert 3; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 65; Tries: Ian Keatley, Conor Murray, JJ Hanrahan, Luke O’Dea 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 11, 2009 – Munster 24 Cardiff Blues 13, Thomond Park
Sunday, May 9, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 13 Munster 12, Cardiff City Stadium
Saturday, December 4, 2010 – Munster 16 Cardiff Blues 9, Thomond Park
Friday, March 25, 2011 – Cardiff Blues 15 Munster 16, Cardiff City Stadium
Friday, September 23, 2011 – Cardiff Blues 13 Munster 18, Cardiff City Stadium
Friday, February 24, 2012 – Munster 16 Cardiff Blues 13, Thomond Park
– The Cardiff Blues have suffered five straight defeats in all competitions, representing their worst run since the 2004/05 season
– Since they returned to the Arms Park at the start of the season, the Blues have won just once there: 34-18 over Benetton Treviso in the RaboDirect PRO12 on September 22
– Munster have won their last two encounters with Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup and Zebre in the PRO12, however away from home they have lost their last four games since their visit to Edinburgh during the opening weekend of the season
– Munster have won their last four fixtures with the Cardiff Blues, but have only been victorious at the Arms Park in the league once before: 18-16 back in November 2005. Munster are winless in their last three trips to Wales