A Munster career going back to 1998 will be marked tonight when Mick O’Driscoll captains the RaboDirect Pro12 champions in a crucial fixture against Newport Gwent Dragons for what will be his 200th career for the province.
It’s another milestone for the Cork player, who makes his 125th league appearance as he seeks to lead his side through another difficult fixture in the absence of their international representatives.
O’Driscoll sees victory as imperative in the battle for a top four place, particularly as Munster seek to secure a home semi-final by finishing as one of the top two.
The game also marks a debut opportunity for new signing Save Tokula, who gets his opportunity alongside Lifeimi Mafi in a backline that shows just two changes in personnel from last weekend.
The newcomer replaces the injured Danny Barnes, while Luke O’Dea is given another opportunity on the wing.
Dave Foley replaces Billy Holland in the Munster second row, while Denis Fogarty comes in for Damien Varley and Stephen Archer starts in place of BJ Botha.
Luke Charteris has been named in the Dragons’ starting line-up for the first time this season but centre Ashley Smith retains the captaincy.
Tonderai Chavhanga also returns to make his first appearance since suffering a rib injury in the match against the Ospreys on January 6. He replaces Adam Hughes, who is out with a facial injury, picked up last week in Italy.
Lewis Robling comes in for his first start at out-half, having been used largely as inside centre, and the Dragons are likely to make a further experiment by bringing in highly-rated 17-year-old centre Jack Dixon at some stage of the game.
Locals won’t take any notice, and neither should neutrals, of the fact there is such a chasm between the two teams in terms of league placings, with Munster a full 22 points ahead and a big difference of six places between them. However, if the Welsh side lacks consistency, they are well capable of causing an upset.
The positive thing from a Munster point of view is that this danger will have been well emphasised all week, so complacency, at least, won’t be an issue.
DRAGONS: W Harries, T Chavhanga, A Tuilagi, A Smith (captain), A Brew, L Robling, W Evans, N Williams, S Jones, N Buck, L Charteris, R Sidoli, J Groves, T Brown, L Evans.
Replacements: S Parry, P Price, D Way, H Ellis, D Waters, J Evans, J Dixon, S Jones.
MUNSTER: F Jones; L O’Dea, S Tokula, L Mafi, J Murphy; I Keatley, T O’Leary; M Horan, D Fogarty, S Archer; D Foley, M O’Driscoll (captain), Dave O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, B Holland, P Butler, D Williams, S Deasy, Denis Hurley.
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