It’s an historic moment in the Guinness Pro14 tonight as Cardiff Blues travel to Thomond Park to take on Munster in the league’s first Monday Night Rugby fixture, 8.15pm kick-off.
John Mulvihill’s men head to Limerick as one of four unbeaten sides in the league, after victories over Zebre and Connacht secured the best start to the season since 2016/17, and the first time the team have won the opening two games of the season under the Australian head coach.
Monday night’s opponents are one of the other unbeaten sides, as Munster managed to overcome Scarlets with a last minute penalty despite having just 14-men in West Wales, before overturning another half-time deficit to beat Edinburgh 25-23 at home last time out.
In recent years games between Cardiff Blues and Munster have been even affairs, with the Welsh side winning four and the Irish side winning six of the last 10 encounters, although only three of those have resulted in away wins and just one of those has been for Monday night’s visitors, back in September 2016 when a try from Dan Fish and a brace from Tom James helped us to a 23-24 victory.
The last encounter between the teams came last November when a three-try blitz early in the second half saw Munster take a 23-33 bonus point win away the Arms Park with the hosts in the midst of a four-game losing streak.
Ahead of this game the Irish side have had to ring the changes with prop John Ryan, lock Tadhg Beirne, back rower CJ Stander and winger Andrew Conway all on duty with the Ireland squad, while Tommy O’Donnell misses out with a head injury suffered against Edinburgh.
Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Gavin Coombes and Calvin Nash replace the internationals, while Academy flanker John Hodnett is in the injury replacement. Elsewhere James Cronin and Kevin O’Byrne complete a new front row, Dan Goggin is in for Alex McHenry in the centre and Darren Sweetnam replaces Matt Gallagher on the wing.
Munster: Mike Haley, Calvin Nash, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam, Ben Healy, Craig Casey; James Cronin, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland (C), Jack O’Donoghue, John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Josh Wycherley, Roman Salanoa, Jean Kleyn, Chris Cloete, Nick McCarthy, JJ Hanrahan, Damian de Allende
John Mulvihill meanwhile has been forced into all six of the changes to his starting XV due to injuries or international call-ups. Kris Dacey is in for the injured Kirby Myhill at hooker, while Dmitri Arhip replaces Dillon Lewis on the tighthead.
Ben Murphy and Rory Thornton form a new second row partnership with Cory Hill and Seb Davies unavailable, while James Ratti gets the nod at blindside flanker after Shane Lewis-Hughes’ call-up.
The only change in the backs sees Aled Summerhill come in for Josh Adams. Brad Thyer, Ethan Lewis and Scott Andrews form a new replacement front row, while Sam Moore is fit to cover the back row. Lloyd Williams captains the side.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Aled Summerhill, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Hallam Amos, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams (c); Corey Domachowski, Kris Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, Ben Murphy, Rory Thornton, James Ratti, Olly Robinson, James Botham
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Sam Moore, Alun Lawrence, Lewis Jones, Jason Tovey, Garyn Smith
With the weather hopefully holding in Limerick it should be an exciting encounter despite the missing internationals, with both sides focusing on different strengths. Munster have excellent forwards, while Cardiff Blues’ backs are some of the best in the league.
If the home side are able to dominate up front and through their kicking and aerial game then it could be a long night for John Mulvihill’s men, but if the visitors can gain close to parity up front and display the clinical attacking edge that secured a bonus point against Connacht then there’s a chance to make it three wins from three.
The next few weeks may well decide the Pro14 as teams battle to stay competitive while losing some key players to national sides. If Cardiff Blues continue to pick up points then anything is possible. Come on Cardiff!