Recently retired Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales hooker Steve Jones will be recognised fully by the local followers, while Munster fans get to say goodbye to the legendary Marcus Horan, who is named on the bench.
Jones hasn’t had nearly the success enjoyed by Horan — five international caps against 67 — but is very much a local hero. He was forced to announce his retirement earlier this week due to a hip injury, while Horan, disappointed with a lack of game time with Munster, decided not to pursue a contract outside the province and instead will call it a day.
However, unlike the injured Jones, Horan will be given an opportunity to bow out of competitive rugby tonight in a Munster squad that is comprehensively changed from the group involved in last week’s derby with Leinster.
Only Denis Hurley, Ian Keatley and Damien Varley have survived from the starting 15 as Rob Penney will rest most of his front-liners ahead of next week’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne in Montpellier.
Munster go into the game off the back of a disappointing campaign by their standards, with an unacceptable nine losses, while their 48-point tally leaves them in sixth place, 14 points off a top four play-off berth.
Dragons are second from bottom with just five wins from the campaign and that might suggest Munster could have an easy ride. However, the Dragons have troubled the Irish province on many previous occasions, who are fielding many inexperienced players.
It’s a challenge, and Hurley has been in Rodney Parade enough times to know it won’t be easy.
“We have put to bed the disappointment of losing against Leinster last week,” he said. “Of paramount importance is getting Munster back into the black with victory tonight over Newport Gwent Dragons.
“The atmosphere between the players on the field was so good that you kept going. Every time you were at the bottom of a ruck, someone is pulling you up off the ground to get going again, to get back in defence or back in attack. That is the way we play together.”
He did accept the importance of winning a league game one week out from a cup tie that will reflect even more heavily on Munster’s disappointing season.
But he warned Heineken Cup semi-final opponents Clermont Auvergne: “The response around the whole squad and the province of Munster has been massive. It has given a lot of players that push and that urge to really want to perform.
“That is really what we will be using. The following week will look after itself. We have an eight-day turnaround before the semi-final. That will give the bodies a chance to rest up a little.”
On a personal level, he hopes to play a part next week. The injury afflicting skipper Doug Howlett might, or might not, give him a sniff at selection for the big match in Montpellier. Either way, he’s happy to be involved tonight, his third match in succession. “I want to play on,” he said. “Personally, I play better the more games I get to play. Continuity is important for me.”
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: T Prydie; M Pewtner, R Wardle, L Robling, T Chavhanga; S Jones, J Evans; A Coundley, H Gustafson, N Buck; A Coombs (capt), R Sidoli; D Lydiate, N Cudd, T Faletau.
Replacements: S Parry, O Evans, T Ryan, A Jones, J Groves, I Jones, W Evans, ATuilagi.
MUNSTER: D Hurley; R O’Mahony, I Dineen, JJ Hanrahan, J Murphy; I Keatley, C Sheridan; W du Preez, D Varley, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, N Ronan, P Butler.
Replacements: S Henry, M Horan, J Ryan, I Nagle, CJ Stander, D Williams, C Bohane, D Barnes.