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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Cardiff Blues

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Cardiff Blues

Munster will want to crown another record-breaking night for Ronan O’Gara with their third successive win when they entertain the Cardiff Blues in Cork on Saturday.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, January 5

MUNSTER (3rd) v CARDIFF BLUES (8th), Musgrave Park, 7.30pm (live RTÉ Two/S4C)

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Team News: Long-serving out-half Ronan O’Gara will become Munster’s most-capped player when he takes to the pitch against the Cardiff Blues at Musgrave Park on Saturday.

O’Gara will be winning his 233rd competitive cap – one more than Peter Stringer – in the RaboDirect PRO12 encounter that acts as the ideal lead in to the final rounds of Heineken Cup pool action.

Just four players – captain Doug Howlett, centre James Downey, scrum half Conor Murray and the man-of-the-match against Ulster, Tommy O’Donnell – retain their places in the Munster team for the visit of the Blues to Cork.

Keith Earls returns from injury to partner James Downey in the centre, while South African back rower CJ Stander, who was nursing a broken bone in his hand, is fit enough to be named on the replacements bench.

Commenting on Earls’ availability again following a groin problem, head coach Rob Penney said: “He looks good. He came through the (Ireland training) camp last week.

“On the back of the camp last week it was decided we wouldn’t consider him for last week’s game (against Ulster), because of his history. But he’s come through this week really well and looks excited and ready to go, which is great.”

Meanwhile, the Cardiff Blues welcome back Wales stars Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny into their matchday squad to face Munster.

Roberts will start at inside centre having recovered from an elbow injury picked up in last month’s loss to Australia, while Halfpenny has a place on the bench having also recovered from a neck/shoulder injury picked up in the same match.

Roberts forms a new centre partnership with Richard Smith who is set to make his full debut for the Welsh regional side.

There is also a new face on the bench with the 22-year-old Romanian prop forward Petru Tamba set to make his Blues bow.

Scrum half Alex Walker retains his place on the bench following on from the Blues’ 12-10 derby victory over the Dragons last week.

Like fellow debutant Smith, Walker was named as one of Wales’s ‘core’ contracted players for the 2011/12 IRB World Sevens Series.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett (capt), Keith Earls, James Downey, Johne Murphy; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, David Foley, Donnacha Ryan, Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Sean Henry, Wian du Preez, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Casey Laulala.

CARDIFF BLUES: Jason Tovey; Owen Williams, Richard Smith, Jamie Roberts, Harry Robinson; Rhys Patchell, Lewis Jones; Sam Hobbs, Rhys Williams, Benoit Bourrust, Bradley Davies, Lou Reed, Josh Navidi (capt), Sam Warburton, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Paetru Tamba, Scott Andrews, James Down, Luke Hamilton, Alex Walker, Ceri Sweeney, Leigh Halfpenny.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Michael Black, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/14; Draw: 25/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 7/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Rob Penney (Munster) – “It’s not exactly the same team that will play in the Heineken Cup (against Edinburgh). I’ve got a more broadbrush stroke to the selection policy.

“I think we can grow people without compromising either team and that’s what we’re trying, endeavouring to do through this whole window, given that we get through the two Heinekens and whatever happens there, happens there.

“Then we lose all our internationals and it would be difficult if all our guys filling in for that Rabo block, post-Heineken, if they hadn’t had any post-Christmas footy. That’s a big ask, so there are a lot of things floating around in my head.

“And I’m new to this too, managing through this series and programme and I’m asking a lot of questions and getting a lot of information. I still think there’s an opportunity to grow people and achieve what you need to achieve.

“It was a really tough game away the last time we played (Cardiff). They’ve probably been one of the unluckier teams results-wise. They’ve been there or thereabouts and picked up a couple of good results recently.

“I think they’ll come here having a couple of their long-term injuries maybe back in the frame. They’ll be really tough and we haven’t gone that well at Musgrave Park, which we need to rectify.”

Gareth Baber (Cardiff Blues) – “We go back into European competition in a week or so and going to Musgrave Park is as good as going to another European destination.

“We want to put a performance in that builds on what we’ve done over the festive period and progresses us towards where we want to be going.

“The squad has shown what they are capable of and we want to make sure that they are on top of their game when we face Munster.”

Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 88; Tries: Tommy O’Donnell 4; Cardiff Blues – Points: Rhys Patchell 49; Tries: Alex Cuthbert 3


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
Friday, November 2, 2012 – Cardiff Blues 18 Munster 24, Cardiff Arms Park


– Munster have won five of their last six matches in the RaboDirect PRO12. The Munstermen have lost just one of their last ten home games in all competitions, 13-6 to the Scarlets at Musgrave Park on November 25

– The Cardiff Blues’ four-match losing run in all competitions ended at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons on December 26

– The Blues’ only away win since September came against Zebre in Parma on November 25

– Cardiff have lost three of their four clashes with Irish provinces this season

– Munster have taken their last five encounters with the Blues since the Welshmen won 13-12 at Cardiff City Stadium in May 2010

– The Blues have not won on Munster soil since a visit to Musgrave Park in October 2007