Munster braced for Blues backlash

The return to home comforts at Cardiff Arms Park tonight is no guarantee to help the Blues end a dismal run of defeats by Munster, but director of rugby Phil Davies remains hopeful the visitors might find it hard to grind out a result there.

The once mighty Welsh side have been taking a hammering of late, losing successively to Toulon, Ulster, Glasgow Warriors and Leinster, and they have gone down to Munster in their previous four outings. The sting in the tail for Munster is that they haven’t won at this particular ground since November of 2005.

As both sides take stock of what stars are available to them based on demands to their respective national requirements, Munster have been boosted by the availability of Ronan O’Gara, who will be asked to prove his fitness following a recent hamstring strain.

For the second week in-a-row coach Rob Penney has been forced to make wholesale changes, two in the back division and the remaining five in the pack.

Doug Howlett returns for Simon Zebo while O’Gara effectively replaces JJ Hanrahan, with Ian Keatley filling one of the two midfield positions. Marcus Horan packs down instead of Dave Kilcoyne, Dave Foley and Billy Holland fill the second row vacancies created by Donncha O’Callaghan and Donnacha Ryan, while Tommy O’Donnell and Sean Dougall come in for Peter O’Mahony and Paddy Butler respectively in the back row.

With a certain amount of stability of selection in the backline unit, full-back Felix Jones is looking forward to another full 80 minutes after his recent return from injury.

He marked a fine performance in last week’s win over Zebre with a try in the bonus point victory and hopes for more positive action tonight: “It’s just great to be back playing. The last while was about putting in a lot of work in all aspects of my game. The Munster game plan under Rob is exciting; last week) was obviously my first time implementing it but I loved it. I had been out training and stuff so I knew what it was all about and I am absolutely delighted; I think it suits the way I play the game.”

Jones doesn’t expect things to come easy, however, insisting the Blues have the capacity to bounce back following a recent drain of three defeats and a bitterly disappointing experience last week at the RDS.

“If anything, I think the pressure will be on us, I don’t see them putting in a similarly poor display and we will need to be at our best,” he insisted.

Neither is Penney fooled by what he believes is merely a temporary problem Cardiff can correct. “That (last week) wasn’t a true Cardiff performance, Leinster were on fire and Cardiff not quite up to speed. This disappointing run can’t go on forever, they’re a capable side with a lot of quality players; it has to turn around at some point.”

But Penney is hoping it won’t happen right now and he’s looking forward to an 80 minute performance from Munster.

“We need to be more consistent, we need to be disciplined for longer periods of time and to be able to create pressure; when we have the foot on the throat we need to be able to leave it there, not let the opposition up for a gulp of air.”

Penney’s Cardiff counterpart, Phil Davies, would probably love to be in a similar position in terms of creating opportunities; his side didn’t have much to cheer about in successive defeats and they have won just one of five home competitive matches this season.

A beleaguered Davies admitted: “We all knew when we started in June that this season would be a massive challenge. Looking at the game we have ahead of us, Munster, regardless of what 15 they put on the pitch, they are going to be hard and uncompromising. It’s yet another hard task for us.”

CARDIFF BLUES: D Fish, T Williams, G Evans, D Hewitt, T Jones, J Tovey, L Jones, C Ma’afu, R Williams, T Filise, L Reed, J Down, R Copeland, A Pretorius (c), J Navidi.

Replacements: A Kyriacou, S Hobbs, R Harford, M Cook, L Hamilton, R Lewis, C Sweeney, O Williams.

MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett (c), C Laulala, I Keatley, L O’Dea; R O’Gara, D Williams; M Horan, M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, S Dougall, T O’Donnell.

Replacements: D Varley, J Ryan, W du Preez, I Nagle, P Butler, P Stringer, D Barnes, J Murphy.

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