Munster are looking to continue their recent winning streak when they face the Dragons in Rodney Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Irish province head into the match sitting top of conference A with 44 points, two ahead of Glasgow Warriors. While the Dragons lie in sixth in conference B with only four wins in 13 games and only 18 points.
When the two sides met earlier in the season Munster were comprehensive 49-6 winners.
However, this time around, both teams are without some key men due to 6 Nations duties, with Munster changing 13 players from last weekend’s win over Exeter.
The much changed starting XV sees Tyler Bleyendaal start at inside centre and captain the side. He is joined in the centre by Dan Goggins, with a back three of Mike Haley, Darren Sweetnam and Ronan O’Mahony.
Alby Mathewson and Bill Johnston start in the half-backs pairing.
Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshell, and Stephen Archer come into the front-row. While Jean Kleyn, the only man other then Haley to retain his place, is partnered by Billy Holland in the second-row.
The pack is completed by Fineen Wychorley, Conor Oliver, and Arno Both in the back-row.
The Dragons are missing six first team players that were called up by Wales including Ross Moriarty and Hallam Amos.
Former Leinster utility player Zane Kirchner is on the bench after starting at full-back last weekend in their 49-7 loss to Clermont, in the European Challenge Cup.
Richard Hibbard captains the side in a mostly unchanged pack from that match.
⚠️ TEAM NEWS 🐉| Your @dragonsrugby to play @Munsterrugby at @rodneyparade tomorrow in @PRO14Official (kick off 3pm)… 👇— Dragons 🏉 (@dragonsrugby) January 25, 2019
Returns for @Josh10Lewis @W10Jordan @TylerMorgan013 @jackdixon1312 @willtd15 and @Nic_Cudd 👏 #BringYourFire 🔥 #DRAvMUN pic.twitter.com/3jp4dMlzdX
Munster No 8 Arno Botha has told his team mates that the level cannot drop now that the Irish internationals are gone and that the team must perform.
“We have Munster standards, and Munster isn’t just some guys, it’s the team. We remind ourselves that the Munster standards remain whole in the team,” he said.
While head coach Johann van Graan reiterated Botha’s comments and has warned his team of the chasing pack that includes the likes Glasgow and Connacht.
“We have got to keep performing week in and week out,” he said.
A win at the weekend would see Munster record five wins in a row in all competitions and ensure that they remain top of the conference. While a win for the Dragons could be a timely reminder to fans that there is hope.
Ulster named side to take on Zebre
The Ulster team has been selected for Saturday’s crucial Guinness PRO14 clash against Zebre at Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm) via Ulster Rugby
Darren Cave will earn his 222nd cap to move him to second in Ulster’s all-time appearance list, overtaking Roger Wilson’s tally of 221. The 31-year-old will now have his sights on Andrew Trimble’s club record of 229.
Cave is again joined in midfield by Stuart McCloskey, who marked a milestone last week against Ospreys with a Man of the Match performance in his 100th provincial game.
There is a new half-back partnership with Dave Shanahan and Peter Nelson named at scrumhalf and flyhalf respectively. Robert Baloucoune has returned from injury and will line out on the right wing, with Rob Lyttle picked on the opposite flank and Louis Ludik moving to fullback.
The front row of Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring and Marty Moore is unchanged from last week’s win in Bridgend, while Kieran Treadwell comes into the second row alongside captain Alan O’Connor. Sean Reidy will start in the 7 jersey and is joined in the back row by Clive Ross and Nick Timoney.
The replacements bench is made up of John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Ross Kane, Ian Nagle, Greg Jones, Jonny Stewart, Johnny McPhillips and James Hume.
Ulster team to play Zebre, Guinness PRO14, Saturday 23rd February, Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm):
(15-9): L Ludik; R Baloucoune, D Cave, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; P Nelson, D Shanahan;
(1-8): E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore, A O’Connor (captain), K Treadwell, C Ross, S Reidy, N Timoney;
Replacements (16-23): J Andrew, A Warwick, R Kane, I Nagle, G Jones, J Stewart, J McPhillips, J Hume.
Leinster Ring the Changes for Kings Visit
Leinster have made a host of changes to their side for the weekend
Leinster have named a much-changed team as they prepare to host the Southern Kings in the RDS on Friday at 19 55.
Only eight of the players that started last weekend’s 40-24 win over Zebre have remained in the XV with Ronan Kelleher set to make his debut at hooker.
Kelleher will be joined by Ed Byrne and Andrew Porter in the front-row with the latter hoping to impress on his time away from the Irish squad.
Ross Molony captains the side from the second-row and is partnered by Mick Kearney.
The back-row is unchanged from last weekend with Josh Murphy, Max Deegan and Caelan Doris all getting the nod after strong performances.
Hugh O’Sullivan comes in at scrum-half to replace Jamison Gibson-Park, who is out of the squad completely. O’Sullivan is paired with Ross Byrne in the half-backs.
Noel Reid starts at inside centre with Conor O’Brien moving to outside centre as Rory O’Loughlin drops to the bench having started last time out.
In the back three there is a much-welcomed return to action for Fergus McFadden, who has been side-lined since October with an injury. While James Lowe’s return to the left-wing means Barry Daly shifts to full-back.
Even with a number of player’s on international duty the Blues bench still brims of experience with the likes of James Tracy, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Scott Fardy and Rory O’Loughlin to call upon if needed.
Caelan Doris who will make his 11th appearance on Friday has told the media how he is looking forward to another run out in front of the home fans but is expecting a hard game.
“Another tough physical game, it will be nice to be back in the RDS on Friday, but the Kings, we saw how dangerous they can be when we were over there. Big tough pack, and a very speedy back-three in particular,” he said.
Speaking ahead of the game Kings head coach Deon Davids, who saw his side lose 43-0 to Munster last weekend, has called on his players to respond.
“The players know clearly where they stand and in what areas of their game, we seek improvements. It was encouraging to see a good start against Munster – we were quite physical and created a lot of momentum, however we were also our own enemy by giving the momentum away at crucial times,” he said.
Many will be expecting Leinster to gain another bonus-point here and continue their dominance at the top of Conference A. However, the Kings who need every point they can get will be hoping to cause an upset and win their first ever Pro14 away match in the process.
Whoever comes out on top will be one step closer to their goal at either end of the table.
Munster Make Six Changes for Ospreys
Munster have named their team to face a depleted Ospreys team
Munster have made six changes to their starting XV as they visit the Liberty Stadium to face a depleted Ospreys side on Friday at 19 35.
Both teams are without a host of international stars as the men in red look to continue their reign at the top of Conference A.
With the likes of Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell and Niall Scannell heading back to Irish duty some players have got an opportunity to impress.
Calvin Nash comes into the starting XV on the wing for his first game of the season, while Jaco Taute and Dan Goggin making up the centre partnership.
JJ Hanrahan has been named at fly-half, with the other changes coming in the front-row where Rhys Marshell starts at hooker and Stephen Archer is at tighthead prop.
Archer and Marshell are joined by Jeremy Loughman in the front three.
The rest of the pack remains the same as last week with Jean Kleyn partnering captain Billy Holland in the second-row, while Fineen Wycherley, Chris Cloete and Arno Botha make up the back-row.
Neil Cronin is Hanrahan’s half-back partner, and as mentioned above Taute and Goggin are at 12 and 13 respectively.
Darren Sweetnam is at 11, Nash at 14 and Mike Haley continues at full-back.
On the bench, Jack O’Donoghue is set to make his first appearance since injuring his knee last May.
Speaking ahead of the game Munster head coach Johann van Graan has given his fringe players encouragement by saying that this is their chance to prove themselves.
“We’re a lot of numbers down, but we’re excited about that because it comes back to our squad, and a lot of guys will get opportunities this week specifically to play and to hopefully put up their hands for later in the season,” he said.
The Ospreys are looking to bounce back from an 8-0 loss to Ulster last weekend and head coach Allen Clarke has told his side that they need to continue their charge for the knock-out stages.
“Friday night’s game against Munster is important if we are to keep challenging for the play-off positions. It’s obviously a massive test against the conference leaders but a test the boys are determined to embrace,” he said.
Munster currently sit top of Conference A two points ahead of second placed Glasgow Warriors and will be looking to continue their recent run of form. However, the Ospreys are down in fourth with only two separating them from the Cheetahs in sixth.
A win for either team could be vital to their season as we head into the final few rounds of fixtures.
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