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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Newport Gwent Dragons v Munster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Newport Gwent Dragons v Munster

Rodney Parade has been a tricky place for Irish sides to get a result at over the years, and Munster have lost on their last two visits there – 31-22 and 20-6. So. can they mark Mick O’Driscoll’s milestone night with a win which would move them into second place in the league table?

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, March 3

NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (9th) v MUNSTER (3rd), Rodney Parade, 6.30pm (live TG4/S4C)

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Team News: On a night that Mick O’Driscoll makes his 200th appearance for Munster, Savenaca Tokula will make his debut as the province battle it out with the Newport Gwent Dragons.

With Danny Barnes rule out through injury, recent signing Savenaca Tokula, who arrived in Cork last Sunday week, lines out in the centre alongside Lifeimi Mafi.

The selected back-line shows two changes in personnel to the one that started against the Cardiff Blues last time out. Luke O’Dea takes over on the right wing from Simon Zebo, who has been involved with the Ireland squad this week.

Up front, only the back row remains the same. Dave Foley replaces Billy Holland in the second row row, while Damien Varley and BJ Botha make way for Denis Fogarty and Stephen Archer in the front row.

Mick O’Driscoll, who made his debut for Munster in August 1998, will achieve a significant milestone against the Dragons as he chalks up his 200th senior provincial cap.

Joining an elite band of players, O’Driscoll’s achievement is all the more extraordinary given that he spent two years with Perpignan in France.

As things currently stand, Peter Stringer leads the way for most Munster caps on 223, followed by Ronan O’Gara (219) and John Hayes (217).

Marcus Horan was the last player to hit the magical 200 mark back in December and it is likely that only one other player – Donncha O’Callaghan – will emulate him and the 33-year-old O’Driscoll.

Meanwhile, Wales international Luke Charteris has been named in the Dragons’ starting line-up to face the reigning RaboDirect PRO12 champions.

Charteris has recovered from a wrist injury to make his first appearance in a Dragons shirt this season and his first appearance on Welsh soil since returning from the World Cup.

Centre Ashley Smith retains the Dragons captaincy for the Munster game having deputised capably in Charteris’ absence.

Winger Tonderai Chavhanga also returns to make his first appearance since suffering a rib injury in the match against the Ospreys in early January.

He replaces Adam Hughes who is out with a facial injury he picked up last weekend against Aironi. Will Harries also comes into the back-line at full-back to take over from the injured Martyn Thomas.

Lewis Robling will make his first Dragons start at out-half. He has largely been used as an inside centre during his first season with the senior Dragons side but has played at number 10 before when coming on as a replacement.

With Charteris coming back into the second row, Jevon Groves reverts to his preferred back row position in place of the injured Gavin Thomas. The final change in the Dragons team is at loosehead prop where Nathan Williams comes in for Phil Price.

Amongst the replacements are flanker Darren Waters, who has recovered from the knock he took against Edinburgh, and 17-year-old centre Jack Dixon who could make only his second senior Dragons appearance (and RaboDirect PRO12 debut) if he comes off the bench.

NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Will Harries; Tonderai Chavhanga, Andy Tuilagi, Ashley Smith (capt), Aled Brew; Lewis Robling, Wayne Evans; Nathan Williams, Steve Jones, Nathan Buck, Luke Charteris, Rob Sidoli, Jevon Groves, Lewis Evans, Tom Brown.

Replacements: Sam Parry, Phil Price, Dan Way, Hugo Ellis, Darren Waters, Jonathan Evans, Jack Dixon, Steffan Jones.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Luke O’Dea, Savenaca Tokula, Lifeimi Mafi, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Denis Fogarty, Stephen Archer, Dave Foley, Mick O’Driscoll (capt), David O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Mike Sherry, Wian du Preez, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Duncan Williams, Scott Deasy, Denis Hurley.

Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Rhys Thomas (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 8/5; Draw: 18/1; Munster to win: 8/15

Pre-Match Quotes: Mick O’Driscoll (Munster) – “Our record against the Dragons over there hasn’t been great in recent times. I think they were the one Welsh side that beat us in Wales last season.

“I do know that they are always very competitive opposition on their own patch. They’re a very difficult side to play against because they’ll try to play rugby from anywhere, and they don’t shirk from trying to take on the opposition up front.

“Yet, there is a good buzz about our own squad now. There’s a resolve there that I think was evident last weekend against Cardiff.

“We raced into what looked to be a commanding lead and then the lads did it too when we had to get stuck in and defend that lead.

“But league positions count for nothing. It’ll be all down to the relative performances on the night.”

Darren Edwards (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “If the Scarlets win their games we won’t catch them, but we just have to look after ourselves and see where that puts us. In this league you get what you deserve.

“Even without their internationals, Munster are a very tough team to break down, as their win against the Cardiff Blues last week showed.

“Munster have created a winning habit over a number of years and they have the ability to stay in the game, which means we have to be more clinical.

“I think that we’ve done well against them recently because we go at them with their own game. We take it to them physically and the boys enjoy the big occasion and taking on a European heavyweight. Games against Munster are always exciting and the boys respond to that.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 133; Tries: Tom Riley 3; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 124; Tries: Danny Barnes, Simon Zebo 5 each


Saturday, March 7, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 9 Munster 20, Rodney Parade
Sunday, September 27, 2009 – Munster 27 Newport Gwent Dragons 3, Musgrave Park
Saturday, March 6, 2010 – Newport Gwent Dragons 31 Munster 22, Rodney Parade
Friday, November 26, 2010 – Newport Gwent Dragons 20 Munster 6, Rodney Parade
Saturday, March 5, 2011 – Munster 38 Newport Gwent Dragons 17, Musgrave Park
Saturday, September 3, 2011 – Munster 20 Newport Gwent Dragons 12, Musgrave Park


– The Newport Gwent Dragons have won their last two games in the RaboDirect PRO12 against Edinburgh and Aironi, but have not won three in-a-row in the competition since this time last year

– The Dragons’ only reversal at Rodney Parade in the PRO12 this season was a 10-6 loss to the Scarlets on December 30

– The men of Gwent have won just one of their last nine encounters with Irish provinces

– Munster have won their last five games in all competitions since their 33-17 defeat at Ulster on December 30

– The Munstermen’s sole defeat on Welsh turf in their last six visits was 19-13 loss at Ospreys on December 3

– The last five fixtures between the two teams have all been won by the home side on the day, while Munster have not won at Rodney Parade since March 2009