Two of Munster’s most experienced players are back in tandem for the visit of the Newport Gwent Dragons to Thomond Park, as Rob Penney’s men look to make it three wins out of four in the RaboDirect PRO12.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, September 22
MUNSTER (4th) v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (8th), Thomond Park, 8pm (live TG4)
Team News: Munster will certainly not lack for experience at half-back in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Newport Gwent Dragons, with Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara paired together from the off for the first time in 19 months.
It will be Stringer’s first start for the Munster senior side since the Edinburgh game at Murrayfield around this time last year.
But between them, O’Gara and Stringer have amassed almost 450 competitive Munster caps with Stringer set to win a phenomenal 226th Munster cap at Thomond Park on Saturday.
Injuries sustained in last weekend’s derby game against Ulster have ruled James Coughlan and Luke O’Dea out for a number of weeks and Denis Hurley and Ivan Dineen succumbed to illness this week, forcing head coach Rob Penney to ring the changes.
Ian Keatley reverts to full-back in place of Hurley, a position he occupied for the latter end of the game last weekend. The loss of O’Dea, who was in a rich vein of form, is softened by the availability of Ireland international Simon Zebo.
Paddy Butler might have expected to be preparing for the ‘A’ interprovincial later today against Connacht Eagles at Dooradoyle, but instead finds himself anchoring the scrum for the senior side.
After six games on the bounce Casey Laulala and Sean Dougall are given a break, so Keith Earls steps in for Laulala at outside centre with Niall Ronan back from injury to replace Dougall in the back row.
There is also a return to the matchday squad for Danny Barnes and a first ever inclusion for JJ Hanrahan after his late heroics at Deramore Park last Friday when his try and conversion helped Munster ‘A’ overhaul Ulster Ravens 19-17.
Tickets from €;20 are available to buy for the Munster v Dragons clash online here, from the Munster Rugby ticket offices in Musgrave Park and Thomond Park and will also be on sale on matchday.
Meanwhile, Newport Gwent Dragons head coach Darren Edwards has named his side to face Munster this weekend in the region’s first trip to Thomond Park since 2004.
Number 8 Tom Brown gets his first start of the season in the back row. Centre Ashley Smith will also grace the starting line-up for the first time this season, in the 99th start of his Dragons career.
MUNSTER: Ian Keatley; Doug Howlett (capt), Keith Earls, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, David O’Callaghan, Niall Ronan, Paddy Butler.
Replacements: Damien Varley, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer, David Foley, Tommy O’Donnell, Conor Murray, Danny Barnes, JJ Hanrahan.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Dan Evans; Will Harries, Adam Hughes, Ashley Smith, Tom Prydie; Lewis Robling, Jonathan Evans; Phil Price, Steve Jones (capt), Dan Way, Ian Nimmo, Adam Jones, Dan Lydiate, Jevon Groves, Tom Brown.
Replacements: Sam Parry, Aaron Coundley, Tim Ryan, Toby Faletau, Lewis Evans, Liam Davies, Andy Tuilagi, Pat Leach.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, David Connolly (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/12; Draw: 33/1; Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 6/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Billy Holland (Munster) – “The Dragons are a very physical outfit whether it’s home or away and they always front up in the pack. We had a physical game last Friday night, no doubt about that, but we’ve got to dust ourselves down and bring another level of intensity and physicality.
“They score tries from anywhere and always have a few strange things up their sleeves which are hard to defend and they’re a very tough team.
“A lot of the lads played with Nevin (Spence) through underage and with the Ireland Wolfhounds and it’s a shocking tragedy. By all accounts he was an extremely nice fella and his ability on the rugby pitch was unquestionable but that doesn’t really matter.
“Everyone says he was a great fella no matter who you are in the rugby community. It’s a shocking thing to happen for his family.
“Minute’s silences can be tough. I didn’t know Nevin but we see ourselves as a big community, rugby, and there’s only a handful of professional players in Ireland.
“We’d have played against him plenty of times and for something like that to happen to someone in a similar situation as us is shocking. But, you know, life has to go on and we’ll get focused and we’ll move on from then.”
Darren Edwards (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “There was no momentum against the Cardiff Blues because of the 17 penalties and I’ve heard the referee getting criticism for the contact area.
“But you are on a slippery slope if you start concentrating on that (rather than the Dragons’ failings) and I cannot allow that to happen.
“We go out to Munster to play a team that are playing well, then have a home game against Edinburgh and then play the Scarlets away. There are periods of the season when we need results or the pressure will really build.
“We need a really good performance in Limerick to build momentum and we have to go out there and fight fire with fire.
“That’s a strength of plenty of the players in our squad, they like confrontation and I want them to respond to the challenge.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 46; Tries: Ian Keatley, Luke O’Dea, Doug Howlett, Keith Earls 1 each; Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Tom Prydie 29; Tries: Dan Evans 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, October 31, 2009 – Munster 24 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, January 2, 2010 – Ulster 15 Munster 10, Ravenhill
Friday, October 29, 2010 – Ulster 6 Munster 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 1, 2011 – Munster 35 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
Friday, December 30, 2011 – Ulster 33 Munster 17, Ravenhill
Saturday, May 5, 2012 – Munster 36 Ulster 8, Thomond Park
– Munster lost their 100% winning start to the RaboDirect PRO12 with a narrow 20-19 defeat at Ulster last Friday evening
– The Munstermen have won their last three home games, while the only Welsh side to win on Munster turf since April 2010 was the Ospreys in October 2011
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have slipped to successive defeats at the hands of Leinster and the Cardiff Blues
– The Dragons’ only victory in their last 13 fixtures against Irish opponents was a 22-9 triumph at home to Ulster in September 2011
– The men of Gwent have won just once in Ireland since 2004, beating Ulster 16-14 at Ravenhill in September 2008
– Munster have won their last three encounters with the Dragons, while the Newport Gwent outfit have won just once in Munster, on their very first visit to Thomond Park back in March 2004