Retaining their RaboDirect PRO12 crown is now Munster’s sole focus. A win at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday would give their title bid quite a bit of momentum as they look to cement a place in the top four.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, April 21
SCARLETS (6th) v MUNSTER (3rd), Parc y Scarlets, 6.30pm (live TG4/S4C)
Team News: Munster head coach Tony McGahan has selected his team to take on the Scarlets in Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 tie in Llanelli, with loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne among the four changes.
It will be a first senior start in a Munster jersey for Academy player Kilcoyne. His only other involvement at this level was back in December when he came of the bench in the closing stages of Munster’s game against Connacht in Galway.
Always highly regarded, the 23-year-old produced a superb performance when Munster ‘A’ defeated a much-vaunted Leinster ‘A’ side in the British & Irish Cup semi final a fortnight ago.
Tony McGahan’s one back-line change is at scrum half where Conor Murray comes in for the London Irish-bound Tomas O’Leary.
Up front, the return of soon to be Freeman of Limerick Paul O’Connell sees his long-time second row partner Donncha O’Callaghan drop to the replacements bench.
This time the nod to join O’Connell at lock has gone to Mick O’Driscoll, who announced this week that he is to retire from rugby at the end of the current season.
The back row remains the same with influential South African BJ Botha coming back into the front row ahead of Stephen Archer.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets welcome back Wales winger George North and will have the vastly experienced Stephen Jones covering for the injured Jonathan Davies (groin) at centre.
Jones featured at inside centre last weekend against Aironi and the Scarlets will be looking to his vision and leadership in this crucial game.
Alongside Jones is bright young centre talent Adam Warren who put in some eye-catching performances in the early part of the season.
Matthew Rees takes the reigns as captain once again and tighthead prop Deacon Manu is back fit after a spell out with concussion. Young Prop Rhodri Jones switches back to loosehead for what is expected to be a big physical battle up front.
SCARLETS: Liam Williams; George North, Adam Warren, Stephen Jones, Sean Lamont; Rhys Priestland, Gareth Davies; Rhodri Jones, Matthew Rees (capt), Deacon Manu, Sione Timani, Dominic Day, Aaron Shingler, Josh Turnbull, Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Emyr Phillips, Phil John, Simon Gardiner, Mat Gilbert, Kieran Murphy, Tavis Knoyle, Jordan Williams, Viliame Iongi.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Luke O’Dea, Johne Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Mick O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell (capt), Donnacha Ryan, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony.
Replacements: Damien Varley, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Tomas O’Leary, Scott Deasy, Ivan Dineen.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, David Jones (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: 4/5; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: Evens
Pre-Match Quotes: Conor Murray (Munster) – “We were enjoying playing after a very low week having exited Europe, we just wanted to get back playing rugby again and it was a lovely evening in Cork. With the dry ball I thought we looked threatening and exciting at times.
“We left them (Glasgow Warriors) back into the game too easily, although the mistakes we made shouldn’t be too hard to fix.
“There’s a lot going on there (the breakdown) at the moment. I was a bit frustrated against Ulster in particular, their tacklers appeared to be hanging onto our ball carrier for a little while on the deck, (and) denying us getting ball back. They got a yellow card for it eventually but it might have been a bit too late.
“But we have to have a different way of looking at individual games and this could be even more different – what stays the same is that every team is trying to mess up (opposition ball) at the breakdown, legally or illegally.
“Personally, I found it (the Heineken Cup exit) quite hard to take, I never quite felt as low coming off the pitch and for the week afterwards; it was hard to get up for training to be honest, knowing that we were out of Europe.
“We worked so hard to win the six games in the group and then go into that quarter-final [(at home) and lose it was quite frustrating. It would have set up a home semi-final and we could have gone all the way, but it’s easy to say that now.
“But it would still be great to win the RaboDirect PRO12, it would lift everyone’s spirits and there is still plenty to be gained out of the season.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “This is a huge fixture for us and we are expecting international level intensity and we have to be right up there in terms of our performance. Munster bring such a big game for 80 minutes, we know what a tough side they are to beat.
“There’s so much in this game for us – not withstanding that they have proved an almost impossible side for us to win against in the past and that will give them a psychological edge over us and it will be a big barrier we have to overcome.
“We need to put a marker down against them now and the boys know that they came very close to beating them twice in the Heineken Cup this season.
“It was very fine margins that let us down – our Scarlets players have a point to prove now and if the importance of this fixture wasn’t big enough anyway – our record against Munster is motivation enough.
“We’re hoping for a good Scarlets home crowd as we’ve been on the road for the last seven weeks with five games away from home.
“This promises to be a great game for rugby supporters in Wales across the board to enjoy, so we expect a very vocal home support and a buzzing atmosphere at Parc y Scarlets.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Scarlets – Points: Dan Newton 66; Tries: Andy Fenby 5; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 167; Tries: Simon Zebo 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, November 28, 2008 – Scarlets 16 Munster 18, Parc y Scarlets
Friday, April 24, 2009 – Munster 29 Scarlets 10, Musgrave Park
Saturday, September 19, 2009 – Scarlets 20 Munster 22, Parc y Scarlets
Thursday, March 18, 2010 – Munster 23 Scarlets 17, Musgrave Park
Sunday, November 21, 2010 – Munster 27 Scarlets 26, Musgrave Park
Saturday. April 16, 2011 – Scarlets 6 Munster 13, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, September 17, 2011 – Munster 35 Scarlets 12, Musgrave Park
– The Scarlets have won four of their last five matches in the RaboDirect PRO12. Their only home defeat in the league this season was to table-topping Leinster in round 4
– Munster’s only defeat in their last five away games was at Aironi on March 11
– The Munstermen have won their last four matches against Welsh opposition in all competitions, and have triumphed on six of their last seven visits to Wales
– Munster’s incredible run of success against Scarlets now stands at 14 successive wins in all competitions since the Llanelli outfit won 24-15 at Stradey Park in a Heineken Cup quarter-final tie in 2007