Kiwi old boys get set to cross swords in Musgrave clash

THERE will be a reunion of sorts for Munster centre Rua Tipoki at Musgrave Park tonight.

One of his best friends from his New Zealand playing days, Xavier Rush, is captain of the Cardiff Blues side bidding to halt Munster’s perfect start to the Magners League campaign.

Rush has more northern hemisphere experience, but Tipoki, after just a couple of games for Munster, is proving to be a quick learner and is settling in well to Declan Kidney’s plans.

Tipoki is named in the side to partner Kieran Lewis, while James Coughlan and Tony Buckley return to the home pack.

Munster go into the game undefeated after wins over Llanelli Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons. They face the table-toppers, who hold a six-point advantage, albeit with two more games played.

After a loss to Leinster last week, Blues coach David Young has made changes with the introduction of Scott Morgan and Bradley Davis in the pack and by nominating Jamie Robinson for his return after injury.

Young, the former Welsh and Lions front row forward, obviously with background information from Rush, singled out Tipoki for special mention based on video analysis of Munster’s last games.

“We have watched their games very closely. Rua Tipoki has added a cutting edge to their play and is a real threat. Up front they play a very traditional style of game, with driving line outs and a strong scrum and a lot of pick and go around those rucks,” he said.

Tipoki, of course, is looking forward to another outing with his new colleagues, just a few months after arriving with his wife and family in Cork.

He admits that he was on the verge of heading to play in Japan but changed his mind when the approach came from Munster.

“As a youngster growing up, I heard a lot about Munster from the older members of my family, particularly my father, who is a huge fan of Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer in particular.”

But it wasn’t his dad who was the final influence on him moving to Ireland.

“It was my wife Mihi, who has family links with Ireland through her grandparents, in Clare, Kerry and Cork.

“A decision had to be made about my future, and I suppose it goes back to conversations I had with Ronan and Alan Quinlan a couple of years ago. In many respects, it’s often better to get a feel for a team from players rather than officials.

“Later on, I had an approach from Munster and I met Declan Kidney and Jerry Holland during the Churchill Cup last year. I don’t think I could have made any other decision after that.”

Even though Tipoki relishes the opportunity of playing alongside what he described as Ireland’s “top quality” internationals he feels equally at home in helping develop Munster’s newest crop of talent.

“The word around now, from within and outside the camp, is that over a few games, the younger players appear to have progressed a long way since last season. It has been a pleasure playing with them. I think we’re playing a decent brand of rugby, and it’s always nice to get a few wins behind you early in the season. That is crucially important for any team, particularly one with a lot of young players involved.

“Yet, there appears to be a very good blend of experience and youth.”

MUNSTER: S. Payne, I. Dowling, K. Lewis, R. Tipoki, A. Horgan, P. Warwick, T. O’Leary, F. Pucciariello, D. Fogarty, T. Buckley, M. Melbourne, M. O’Driscoll, J. Coughlan, A. Foley (captain), N. Ronan.

Replacements: F. Sheahan, D. Hurley, A. Quinlan, B. Holland, J. Hurley, J. Manning, L. Mafi.

CARDIFF BLUES: B. Blair, J. Roberts, J. Robinson, D. Hewitt, T. James, N. Robinson, R. Rees, J. Yapp, G. Williams, G. Powell, B. Davies, R. Sidoli, S. Morgan, X Rush (captain), R. Sowden-Taylor.

Replacements: S. Roberts, R. Johnson, D. Jones, B. White, J. Spice, N. McLeod, R. Williams.

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