Ireland captain Paul O’Connell is among the returning players for Munster as they look to extend their lead at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 by beating the Dragons in Newport.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, November 29
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (7th) v MUNSTER (1st), Rodney Parade, 7.15pm (live updates on Munster Twitter page)
Team News: Paul O’Connell will start just his second RaboDirect PRO12 game of the season against the Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday night.
South African winger Gerhard van den Heever will make his debut with Keith Earls, James Downey and Ian Keatley all returning from injury. Second row Billy Holland will captain the province at Rodney Parade.
Head coach Rob Penney has continued his rotation policy with 12 changes to the team that beat Cardiff Blues 31-10 last weekend.
Try scorer Felix Jones is the only survivor in the backs with CJ Stander and Holland the only forwards to keep their starting places.
Prop Stephen Archer will earn his 60th Munster cap and is joined in the front row by David Kilcoyne and hooker Mike Sherry.
Ireland captain O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan make up the second row with Holland, Stander and number 8 James Coughlan in the back row.
Duncan Williams will be partnered at half-back by the returning Keatley with Downey and Earls starting in the centre positions.
Denis Hurley comes onto the left wing for his first start since injuring his knee against Gloucester, with new signing van den Heever lining out on the opposite flank.
Ian Nagle is named on the replacements bench and could feature for the first time since he injured his left foot against Zebre in the middle of September.
Munster go into the game as leaders of the RaboDirect PRO12 and will be keen to extend their five-match winning streak.
In making 12 changes to a side that performed so impressively against Cardiff, Penney has given his players a chance to impress ahead of the crucial Heineken Cup double header against Perpignan.
“There are some players getting an opportunity this week that will need to play well to force their hand in terms of ERC selection,” said the New Zealander.
“It’s exciting because the other guys have done their job and when you’re growing in depth and guys are getting rotated in, then they’ve got to perform well when they get their opportunity.”
Please note that Friday night’s game in Newport will not be televised and updates will be issued via the Munster Twitter page.
Meanwhile, Dragons director of rugby Lyn Jones has kept faith with the team that beat Glasgow Warriors last weekend by naming the same side to face league leaders Munster.
Dan Evans starts at full-back with Will Harries and Matthew Pewtner completing the back-three. The midfield combination of Pat Leach and Ross Wardle start for the third time this season.
Last weekend’s man-of-the-match Jason Tovey keeps his place at out-half alongside Wales international scrum half Richie Rees.
Owen Evans, Sam Parry and Francisco Chaparro make up the front row, while young gun Cory Hill and skipper Rob Sidoli fill the second row berths. The back row features Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd and number 8 Netani Talei.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Daniel Evans; Will Harries, Pat Leach, Ross Wardle, Matthew Pewtner; Jason Tovey, Richie Rees; Owen Evans, Sam Parry, Francisco Chaparro, Cory Hill, Rob Sidoli (capt), Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd, Netani Talei.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Aaron Coundley, Dan Way, Matthew Screech, Ieuan Jones, Wayne Evans, Steffan Jones, Ashley Smith.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Gerhard van den Heever, Keith Earls, James Downey, Denis Hurley; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Billy Holland (capt), CJ Stander, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Damien Varley, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Ian Nagle, Barry O’Mahony, Cathal Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, Ivan Dineen.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Simon Rees (both Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 13/8; Draw: 22/1; Munster to win: 4/9
Pre-Match Quotes: Stephen Archer (Munster) – “I’m looking forward to it (my 60th Munster cap), I didn’t actually realise it until now. As a player you sometimes forget about those things and the caps come quicker than you imagine so I’m looking forward to Friday night.
“It was a very good performance (against Cardiff Blues), especially in the first half when the lads did a great job and blew Cardiff off the pitch so it was an easy game to come on to finish it off.
“There are still a few things to work on, we conceded a try so we’ll try to tighten that up for this weekend.
“The Dragons had a very good result up in Glasgow, they beat them well and it’s a tough place to go. We just scraped out of there with the win and their victory was much more comprehensive.
“They will be looking for a scalp against us. We’ll really have to be on top of things at training this week and give it our best.
“It’s very important to build the momentum (heading into the Heineken Cup double header). It would be easy to look ahead to Perpignan, but we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground and concentrate on the Dragons.
“They’re sneaking up the table after that win against Glasgow and we’ve had a difficult time over there before. I’ve played there three times and only won once so hopefully we can get a win.
“That defeat to Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup took away any complacency, we’re focused now on our next few matches and confidence is building in the squad.”
Rob Sidoli (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “It was a good win (for us up in Glasgow) and a good performance, but we didn’t get carried away.
“It was great to get that result but we dealt with it very maturely; celebrations were low key and we quickly started to focus on a new team coming to Rodney Parade.
“There is a lot of youth in our team and it was an important and enjoyable win, but having Munster around the corner helped ensure that we stayed grounded.
“Glasgow is a tough place to go but we dealt with the conditions and put them under pressure, which turned into points.
“There was a good transfer from training to the pitch and it’s important that the same happens against a very good Munster team.
“They are excellent at working out their opposition and the defeat to them (in Cork in September) is still fresh in our minds. We have to prepare for them in a very clinical way.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 71; Tries: Hallam Amos 2; Munster – Points: JJ Hanrahan 68; Tries: James Cronin 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, March 5, 2011 – Munster 38 Newport Gwent Dragons 17, Musgrave Park
Saturday, September 3, 2011 – Munster 20 Newport Gwent Dragons 12, Musgrave Park
Saturday, March 3, 2012 – Newport Gwent Dragons 14 Munster 24, Rodney Parade
Saturday, September 22, 2012 – Munster 33 Newport Gwent Dragons 13, Thomond Park
Friday, April 19, 2013 – Newport Gwent Dragons 30 Munster 24, Rodney Parade
Saturday, September 28, 2013 – Munster 23 Newport Gwent Dragons 9, Musgrave Park
– Newport Gwent Dragons have won their last two matches in all competitions, beating Wasps at Rodney Parade in the LV= Cup and Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium in the RaboDirect PRO12
– The Dragons’ only defeat in their last seven contests at Rodney Parade in all tournaments was 23-19 to Leinster on November 1
– Table-topping Munster have won their last five fixtures in the PRO12 since Benetton Treviso handed them their only defeat so far this season in Italy in round 3
– The Munstermen have won all three previous clashes with Welsh regions in the current campaign
– The Dragons’ only victory in their last six fixtures with Munster was 30-24 in this equivalent fixture last season, played on April 19
– The Munstermen’s only win on their last four visits to Rodney Parade was 24-14 in March 2012