Guinness Pro14 action returns to the Arms Park this weekend as Munster arrive to take on a Cardiff Blues side still hunting for their first win of the season.
It follows two weeks in Italy which have seen John Mulvihill’s men come away with just two losing bonus points after consecutive late defeats which added to the last gaps defeat suffered at home to Leinster in round one.
Had all of the matches lasted 76 minutes Cardiff Blues would be sitting pretty on 13 points from 15 now, but a failure to see out games, in part thanks to 70 minutes of not capitalising on a 21-0 lead against Zebre last week, sees us with just four points from the opening three rounds.
When you’re still hunting for a first win, Munster aren’t always the team you want to come up against. Making the semi-final of both the league and Heineken Cup in each of the last two seasons is a sign of the consistency and quality they possess in their squad.
Cardiff Blues can take solace in the fact we’ve beaten the Irish side at the Arms Park twice in the last three seasons, with an away win coming in the intervening year. but it doesn’t make this season’s task any easier.
Munster have won two of their three games, with comfortable wins against Cheetahs and Ospreys coming either side of losing to Glasgow, and will be looking to beat Cardiff Blues before back-to-back Irish derbies leading into the first two rounds of the Heineken Cup pool stage.
They have named a strong side to cross the Irish Sea though, with South Africans Jean Kleyn and Jaco Taute joining British and Irish Lion CJ Stander in returning to the starting line-up. The experience of Mike Sherry and the potential of Rory Scannell are also selected, while they go for the double playmaker 10/15 axis with JJ Hanrahan at full-back.
With the likes of Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Chris Cloete, Joey Carbery and Darren Sweetnam already in the squad, they are packed with quality and will be a formidable force at the Arms Park on Friday night.
Munster: JJ Hanrahan, Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam, Joey Carbery, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (c), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Dave Kilcoyne, Brian Scott, Darren O’Shea, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack Stafford, Bill Johnston, Shane Daly
Cardiff Blues meanwhile have been able to welcome back an international of our own, as the real life Captain America that is Blaine Scully returns from an ankle injury to replace Owen Lane on the wing.
Ellis Jenkins also returns to captain the side from flanker, as Nick Williams starts at number eight with Josh Turnbull moving up to second row to make space and Olly Robinson taking place on the bench. Rhys Gill and Dmitri Arhip start at prop alongside Kris Dacey.
The final changes see Willis Halaholo start in place of Garyn Smith at centre, while Jarrod Evans comes in at 10 with Gareth Anscombe shifting to full-back to give us a 10/15 playmaker axis of our own.
Cardiff Blues: Gareth Anscombe, Blaine Scully, Willis Halaholo, Rey Lee-Lo, Jason Harries, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, George Earle, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins (c), Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carre, Scott Andrews, Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Lloyd Williams, Garyn Smith, Matthew Morgan
Friday night will see a huge battle of the breakdown, as Munster’s jackal threats of Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Chris Cloete and CJ Stander come up against our jackal threats of Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins and Nick Williams.
There are also intriguing match-ups between the two 10/15 playmaker axis, the centre partnerships with their mix of power and stepping ability, and up front where the front rows seem fairly equally matched on paper.
For Cardiff Blues though, we need a real performance to bounce back from what was an unacceptable showing in the last 70 minutes against Zebre. In pretty much all aspects; attack, defence, breakdown work, lineout and general physicality.
If the win follows then that would be ideal, but realistically we may just need to build confidence back up slowly with a solid performance to build on against Cheetahs at the Arms Park next Friday.
The minimum has to be playing for the full 80 minutes though, unless we can find a way to shorten the length of games….come on Cardiff!
Cardiff Blues form: LLL
Munster form: WLW
Cardiff Blues top try scorers: Rey Lee-Lo, Jason Harries (2)
Munster top try scorer: Rhys Marshall (3)
Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (23)
Munster top points scorer: Joey Carbery (17)
Quinton Immelman (SA) – Refereed this fixture in Cork last season as Munster secured a 39-16 win. Will allow players to get away with a lot on the floor, whether you see that as a good or bad thing is up to you.