As if Munster’s task is not difficult enough against notoriously tricky opponents, Scarlets are strengthened by the return from injury of Welsh and Lions international Jonathan Davies, who forms a new centre partnership with recent signing, England’s Olly Barkley.
To whip up enthusiastic home support, Scarlets have highlighted the fact that it’s St David’s Day and that Munster are on the cusp of breaking previous records by beating all four Welsh regions home and away for the first time.
Clearly, the Simon Easterby-coached side are building as many reasons as possible to motivate them for this one.
Munster will also have to take stock of the fact that Scarlets have won three of their last four fixtures against Irish provinces at the venue, including an 18-10 triumph over Rob Penney’s side last season.
However, the leaders will be happy to head to Wales with a very strong team, the return of Donncha O’Callaghan being merely one area of strength in an experienced side.
O’Callaghan joins Donnacha Ryan in the second row for the trip as one of eight changes to the side that beat Ospreys last weekend. There are four changes in the backs with Duncan Williams — who has agreed a one-year extension to his contract — taking the place of injury victim Cathal Sheridan at scrum-half.
Ian Keatley continues at out half, Johne Murphy and Gerhard van den Heever are named on the wings and Simon Zebo hopes to show Joe Schmidt his versatility from the full-back spot. Denis Hurley comes in at first centre with Casey Laulala keeping his place at second centre.
Two of the four changes in the forwards involve the front row with Irish international props Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer joining hooker Duncan Casey who keeps his place to make his fifth start for the province.
Scarlets coach Easterby yesterday managed to come up with a further reason as to why his side should win it, or at least why they desperately want to.
“Having narrowly missed out on a victory late on in injury time against Munster at Musgrave Park before Christmas, we’ve had plenty of motivation in training this week.
“We put ourselves in a really good position to win away from home but gave them a foothold in the dying minutes and they managed to stick at it,” he said.
The Munster heroes that night were Ronan O’Mahony, who scored the late try and JJ Hanrahan, who converted to secure a 16-10 win.
Munster have kicked on a bit since that fright and now top the table, with 57 points and a 39-15 try for/against ratio. Scarlets have 32 match points with 25 tries scored and 27 conceded; a big difference.
While Munster coach Rob Penney paid tribute to Scarlets, he was also happy when reminded of his side’s scoring and defensive ability throughout this competition.
“You would always be pleased when you’re not letting too many tries through,” he said. “It’s working well for us. It is a key plank of any team because it means you don’t have to score too many tries yourself. It [the scoring record] could be indicative of anything, but we’re pretty proud of it.”
But Penney is still on guard and noted this Welsh outfit won’t capitulate easily.
“They bring an intense passion to the forward exchanges. They are just ruthless and we are going to have to deal with that. They have some quality in their backs so they are not a team you would go to and just turn up and play and say you’re going to be ok. We have got to be in really good shape mentally as well as physically.”
MUNSTER: S Zebo; G van den Heever, C Laulala, D Hurley, J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, D Casey, S Archer; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; CJ Stander, T O’Donnell, James Coughlan (capt).
Replacements: Ger Slattery, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Sean Dougall, Gerry Hurley, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.
SCARLETS: J Williams; K Phillips, J Davies, O Barkley, F Climo; A Thomas, G Davies; P John, E Phillips, S Lee; G Earle, J Snyman; J Turnbull, J Barclay, R McCusker (capt).
Replacements: K Myhill, R Evans, J Adriaanse, R Kelly, S Timani, R Williams, G Maule, A Warren.