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Much-changed Munster seek to maintain winning momentum in Wales

Johann van Graan has urged his players to seize their chance against Dragons this afternoon.
Jan 26th 2019, 6:46 AM 7,834 3

IT’S NOW FOUR wins on the bounce for Munster and Johann van Graan’s side can finish this 10-game block of games by consolidating their position at the top of Guinness Pro14 Conference A in Wales this afternoon. 

The Munster head coach has made wholesale changes for the trip to Rodney Parade, with all of the province’s internationals wrapped up in cotton wool ahead of the Six Nations, and only Mike Haley and Jean Kleyn retained from last week’s defeat of Exeter Chiefs.

Munster's Fineen Wycherley Fineen Wycherley starts for Munster. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Despite the alterations, this round 14 encounter against the Dragons [KO 3pm, Premier Sports/eir Sport/TG4] presents Munster with the perfect opportunity to maintain their winning momentum heading into the break, and provides a number of players with a valuable window to impress. 

Having won 10 of their last 12 games in both competitions, the southern province find themselves in a good position at this juncture of the season and a sixth straight win over the Welsh region would do just nicely before two weekends off.

The selection of Tyler Bleyendaal at inside centre to accommodate the continued exposure of Bill Johnston at out-half is a piquant subplot, while winger Ronan O’Mahony starts just his second game of the season following a long injury layoff.

While there is plenty of experience in the Munster side, the likes of Johnston, Conor Oliver and Fineen Wycherley will all be keen to step up and prove their worth in the red jersey, with further opportunities on the horizon during the Six Nations.

There are seven changes up front with loosehead prop Jeremy Loughman and Stephen Archer either side of Rhys Marshall in the front row, while Billy Holland and Kleyn form an experienced second row pairing.

The back row unit has a dynamic and powerful look to it, with Wycherley and Oliver joined by Arno Botha at the back of the scrum.

“You have got to perform every time you go out and if you get an opportunity you have to take it,” Van Graan said. 

“Before we get to the Champions Cup quarter-final in two months’ time we as a squad have got to grow, we have to use our squad without the Irish lads. It is a great time of year.

“The focus is on the Six Nations, but we want to improve every single day and every single week and hopefully, we can do it this week.” 

Dragons are improving at home, with all four of their league wins this term coming at Rodney Parade, including victories over Edinburgh and Ospreys either side of Christmas.

The departure of Bernard Jackman has seen Ceri Jones installed until the end of the season, but the glaring deficiencies that have held the Welsh region back for so many years won’t be fixed with a change of management. Munster should have far too much here.

Johann van Graan Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Dragons’ most recent success against an Irish opponent was their 21-8 win over Connacht in September 2017, and they have beaten Munster just eight times in 29 previous league meetings.

All of the indicators point at an away win, not just because Munster’s side is still stacked with strength and exciting talent, but the competition for places within the changing room means a big performance is required from those who have been given the chance. 

Dragons:

15. Jordan Williams
14. Jared Rosser
13. Tyler Morgan
12. Jack Dixon
11. Will Talbot-Davies
10. Josh Lewis
9. Rhodri Williams

1. Brok Harris
2. Richard Hibbard (captain)
3. Lloyd Fairbrother
4. Joe Davies
5. Matthew Screech
6. Harrison Keddie
7. Nic Cudd
8. Ollie Griffiths.

Replacements:

16. Rhys Lawrence
17. Rhys Fawcett
18. Dan Suter
19. Lewis Evans
20. Taine Basham
21. Rhodri Davies
22. Jason Tovey
23. Zane Kirchner. 

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Darren Sweetnam
13. Dan Goggin
12. Tyler Bleyendaal (captain)
11. Ronan O’Mahony
10. Bill Johnston
9. Alby Mathewson

1. Jeremy Loughman
2. Rhys Marshall
3. Stephen Archer
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Billy Holland
6. Fineen Wycherley
7. Conor Oliver
8. Arno Botha.

Replacements:

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. Liam O’Connor
18. Ciaran Parker
19. Darren O’Shea
20. Gavin Coombes
21. Neil Cronin
22. Calvin Nash
23. Jaco Taute. 

Referee: Ben Blain [SRU].

Just over a week out from the 2019 Six Nations openers, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look at Ireland’s bid for another Grand Slam:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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