Munster and Cardiff Blues will follow their national sides into action in Limerick tonight, battling it out for important RaboDirect PRO12 points at the start of a four-week block of games.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, February 8
MUNSTER (1st) v CARDIFF BLUES (9th), Thomond Park, 7.15pm (live TG4/S4C)
Team News: James Coughlan will captain a strong Munster side in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 game against Cardiff Blues in Limerick.
There are nine changes to the team that beat Edinburgh three weeks ago with two players making their Thomond Park debuts.
South African flyer Gerhard van den Heever and back rower Barry O’Mahony start their first games for Munster at the famous Limerick venue.
Simon Zebo comes in at full-back for his first start since injuring his foot in October, with Johne Murphy keeping his place on the left wing.
Denis Hurley comes back into the side to partner Casey Laulala in the centre with Duncan Williams and JJ Hanrahan returning to form the half-back combination.
David Kilcoyne, Duncan Casey and Stephen Archer make up the front row with Donncha O’Callaghan and David Foley in the second row.
The aforementioned O’Mahony is joined in the back row by CJ Stander and captain Coughlan to complete the province’s starting line-up.
Sean Dougall and Cathal Sheridan are included among the replacements after recovering from recent knocks, while Ian Keatley provides cover on the bench after featuring for the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds two weeks ago.
Young Munster’s Ger Slattery, who was originally due to play for the Ireland Club team on Friday, will provide the front row cover alongside James Cronin and John Ryan.
The experienced Billy Holland and winger Andrew Conway are also hoping to have an impact off the bench. However, young hooker Niall Scannell misses out after picking up an elbow injury during yesterday’s training session.
Munster v Cardiff Blues tickets will be available to buy on the night. Ticket prices are as follows: Junior (16 years and under) Terrace €;7, Terrace €;20, Terrace Family Pack €;40 (two adults & two juniors), Cat B Junior €;10, Category B Adult €;30, Category A €;40.
Meanwhile, recent O2 Ireland Woldhounds debutant Robin Copeland will line out for Cardiff against Munster – the team he will play for next season.
Prop Sam Hobbs, who will captain the Blues, is one of eight changes to the side that defeated Harlequins in the LV= Cup last time out.
The front row sees Benoit Bourrust pack down with Hobbs and top try-scoring hooker Kristian Dacey. Prop Patrick Palmer, former Cardiff Blues academy player, is drafted onto the replacement bench from Pontypridd due to injuries.
Lock Chris Dicomidis returns to join Filo Paulo in the second row, while Copeland returns from Ireland camp to start at number 8.
In the back-line, Dan Fish moves to full-back while Harry Robinson and Chris Czekaj return to take the wing spots. Lloyd Williams partners Gareth Davies at half-back.
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Gerhard van den Heever, Casey Laulala, Denis Hurley, Johne Murphy; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams; David Kilcoyne, Duncan Casey, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, David Foley, CJ Stander, Barry O’Mahony, James Coughlan (capt).
Replacements: Ger Slattery, James Cronin, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Sean Dougall, Cathal Sheridan, Ian Keatley, Andrew Conway.
CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Harry Robinson, Owen Williams, Gavin Evans, Chris Czekaj; Gareth Davies, Lloyd Williams; Sam Hobbs (capt), Kristian Dacey, Benoit Bourrust, Chris Dicomidis, Filo Paulo, Macauley Cook, Ellis Jenkins, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Marc Breeze, Thomas Davies, Patrick Palmer, James Down, Luke Hamilton, Lewis Jones, Simon Humberstone, Isaia Tuifua.
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/8; Draw: 25/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 9/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Rob Penney (Munster) – “These next two games (against Cardiff and Zebre) are important for multiple reasons and one is the selfish undertone of each individual player needing to perform really well and try to open that door up into the Irish environment.
“I’m always disappointed when lads don’t get in at that level. There’s nothing they can do at this point to influence selections. It’s the 80 minutes on the pitch that means the most.
“They (the Thomond Park crowd) are terrific for us. Hopefully there will be a lot of people there to embrace this mixture of experience and youth.
“We will have a real crack and see if we can get points against Cardiff and get this little four-week block on the road for us nicely.”
Chris Dicomidis (Cardiff Blues) – “Saturday is a massive game for us. We are back to the RaboDirect PRO12, after a good win last Friday against Harlequins (in the LV= Cup).
“The boys are really looking forward to the challenge. It’s the start of a massive period for us now, four big games in the Rabo and we need to climb up that table.
“Munster are a quality outfit with quality players. They have a few boys out on international duty but they have great strength and depth.
“Munster will be a huge challenge for us, but one we are looking forward to. As they are top of the table there will be a huge amount of pressure on them compared to the pressure on us. We feel we can go out there and express ourselves and play.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: JJ Hanrahan 101; Tries: James Cronin, JJ Hanrahan 3 each; Cardiff Blues – Points: Leigh Halfpenny 98; Tries: Kristian Dacey 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, January 5, 2013 – Munster 6 Cardiff Blues 17, Musgrave Park
Saturday, November 23, 2013 – Cardiff Blues 10 Munster 31, Cardiff Arms Park
– Munster held onto top spot in the RaboDirect PRO12 despite their 29-19 loss in Ulster in the last round
– The Munstermen have won all nine home games they have played in all competitions this season, and have also won all five games they have played against Welsh regions in 2013/14
– Cardiff Blues ended a four-match winless run in the PRO12 with their 21-13 home victory over the Newport Gwent Dragons in round 12
– The Blues have not triumphed away from home in the PRO12 since a trip to Edinburgh on February 15, 2013
– Munster’s only defeat in their last seven fixtures with the Blues was 17-6 at Musgrave Park on January 5, 2013, while the Blues have never won in six previous visits to Thomond Park in all competitions