Cardiff clash a must-win for Munster

INJURY-HIT Cardiff still hope to spring a Celtic League surprise on Munster at the Arms Park this evening (5.30).

Blues coach David Young believes his side can take the wind out of Munster's sails on foot of the news of the consolidation of the squad for next season.

"I'm delighted to report that all of the guys I want for next season have agreed to extend their contracts. A number of our top players had already signed but a bonus is the agreement we reached earlier this week with Kort Schubert, Gareth Williams, Dean Dewdney and Robin Sowden-Taylor. That's really good news for the club at a time when we have a number of players on the injured list."

Young's optimism for the Munster clash could hinge on a number of fitness tests. Nick Walne and Shaun James are both suffering from shoulder injuries while Nick Robinson has a dead leg with just a 50-50 chance of playing. Feneti Tiulagi and Jonny Bryant have already been ruled out.

The rash of injuries is such that two amateur players from Cardiff Chris Czekaj and Daffyd Hewitt have been added to the squad.

Craig Quinnell will captain the side for the third time this season, and while the pack has been finalised, 11 backs have been named from which Young will pick his starting seven.

Munster coach Alan Gaffney is fully aware of the importance of the tie.

"It's a must-win game if we are to keep up our challenge for the title."

While Gaffney had to plan without many of his first choice players, Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer included, he has still been able to name a strong side.

John Kelly has worked his way back to full fitness and Anthony Horgan is another to rejoin the ranks after recovering from injuries. Gaffney has named Shaun Payne and Rob Henderson in the centre and has a decent pack at his disposal.

Frankie Sheahan and Marcus Horan have been released by Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan and are joined by former Scottish international Gordon McIlwham in a strong front row.

Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell are missing and there will be some pressure on Tom Bowman and Trevor Hogan to produce the goods in the second row. Munster have a powerful back-row in Jim Williams, David Wallace and Stephen Keogh, and have Alan Quinlan on the bench. Quinlan, eyeing a place in the Ireland A team against France next Friday, will most likely get some game-time and his availability gives Gaffney a powerful option if things do not go according to plan.

It will not be easy on Welsh soil but Gaffney believes his side are capable of winning. "We have to win to keep the pressure on Neath/Swansea and keep Leinster at bay," he said.

Four points for the win will be the least he demands from his players.

Elsewhere in Wales, Ireland international Simon Easterby has signed a new three-year contract with Llanelli Scarlets. The deal will keep the 29-year-old flanker at Stradey Park until the end of the 2007-8 season.

"I'm looking forward to the challenges of next season and proud to remain a member of the squad," said Easterby. "We've had our work cut out this season and things haven't gone our way, but we're a strong squad and I believe we'll come back fighting."

Scarlets chief executive Stuart Gallacher said the club was pleased with the deal. "Simon is the consummate professional and has been indispensable as captain in a season that has not gone to plan."

Meanwhile, Connacht coach Michael Bradley has been appointed head coach to Ireland's A squad for next week's clash with France A at Donnybrook. Another former Irish international and current Ulster assistant coach, Allen Clarke, will fill the role of assistant coach to the shadow Irish team with Joey Miles acting as team manager.

The A game next Friday (7pm) will be the first outing for the second string since 2003 when they played England A in Donnybrook.

CARDIFF: Backs from: C. Morgan, D. Dewdney, T. Davis, D. Hewitt, L. Thomas, J. Vaughton, C. Czekaj, M. McLeod, N. Robinson, R. Powell, R. Smith; forwards: M. Jones, G. Williams, B. Evans, C. Quinnell, D. Jones, M. Mathka, K. Schobert, R. Sowden-Taylor.

MUNSTER: C. Cullen, J. Kelly, S. Payne, R. Henderson, A. Horgan, P. Burke, M. Prendergast, M. Horan, F. Sheahan, G. McIlwham, T. Hogan, T. Bowman, J. Williams (captain), S. Keogh, D. Wallace.

Replacements: F. Roche, J. Flannery, T. Hayes, A. Quinlan, E. Reddan, J. Holland, P. Devlin.

More in this section

CourtsRugbyPlace: Arms ParkPlace: WalesPlace: Stradey ParkPlace: DonnybrookPerson: David YoungPerson: Kort SchubertPerson: Gareth WilliamsPerson: Dean DewdneyPerson: Robin Sowden-TaylorPerson: YoungPerson: Nick WalnePerson: Shaun JamesPerson: Nick RobinsonPerson: Feneti TiulagiPerson: Jonny BryantPerson: Chris CzekajPerson: Daffyd HewittPerson: Craig QuinnellPerson: Alan GaffneyPerson: GaffneyPerson: Ronan O'GaraPerson: Peter StringerPerson: John KellyPerson: Anthony HorganPerson: Shaun PaynePerson: Rob HendersonPerson: Frankie SheahanPerson: Marcus HoranPerson: Eddie O'SullivanPerson: Gordon McIlwhamPerson: Donncha O'CallaghanPerson: Paul O'ConnellPerson: Tom BowmanPerson: Trevor HoganPerson: Jim WilliamsPerson: David WallacePerson: Stephen KeoghPerson: Alan QuinlanPerson: QuinlanPerson: Simon EasterbyPerson: EasterbyPerson: Stuart GallacherPerson: SimonPerson: Michael BradleyPerson: Allen ClarkePerson: Joey MilesPerson: C. MorganPerson: D. DewdneyPerson: T. DavisPerson: D. HewittPerson: L. ThomasPerson: J. VaughtonPerson: C. CzekajPerson: M. McLeodPerson: N. RobinsonPerson: R. PowellPerson: R. SmithPerson: M. JonesPerson: G. WilliamsPerson: B. EvansPerson: C. QuinnellPerson: D. JonesPerson: M. MathkaPerson: K. SchobertPerson: R. Sowden-TaylorPerson: C. CullenPerson: J. KellyPerson: S. PaynePerson: R. HendersonPerson: A. HorganPerson: P. BurkePerson: M. PrendergastPerson: M. HoranPerson: F. SheahanPerson: G. McIlwhamPerson: T. HoganPerson: T. BowmanPerson: J. WilliamsPerson: S. KeoghPerson: D. WallacePerson: F. RochePerson: J. FlanneryPerson: T. HayesPerson: A. QuinlanPerson: E. ReddanPerson: J. HollandPerson: P. DevlinEvent: Celtic LeagueOrganisation: CardiffOrganisation: MunsterOrganisation: BluesOrganisation: FranceOrganisation: NeathOrganisation: SwanseaOrganisation: LeinsterOrganisation: Llanelli ScarletsOrganisation: ScarletsOrganisation: ConnachtOrganisation: France AOrganisation: UlsterOrganisation: England A
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