Jones out to impress against Cardiff in late bid for Irish No 15 jersey
AFTER Declan Kidney's assertion that a number of players featuring this weekend could force their way into the reckoning for the South Africa match next weekend, he is sure to be keeping a close eye on Felix Jones' performance at full-back in the Arms Park tonight.
Jones was one of the players name-checked by Kidney as somebody who could yet make it into the squad for next Saturday's clash in the Aviva.
Rob Kearney's absence though, means the No 15 jersey is far from a foregone conclusion and could be filled by Jones or Denis Hurley -- who was recently added to the squad -- if Kidney decides to go with a recognised full-back.
The other options are Keith Earls or Tommy Bowe, who could be asked to fill in, but Jones is making a late claim to be included from the start after his recovery from a serious shoulder injury.
And Kidney is known to be a fan, as witnessed by his inclusion in the World Cup squad last year.
Jones only made his first start of the season against Zebre last week and while JJ Hanrahan stole the show with two tries on his full debut that night, the former Leinster man showed a few promising touches and bagged a try of his own.
However, he insists he won't be distracted by any talk of joining the Ireland camp on the back of a good performance tonight.
"My focus is purely on the game against Cardiff Blues," Jones said. "I have no control of issues beyond that and just need to concentrate on this game."
Ronan O'Gara also starts at out-half in a bid to prove his fitness ahead of the clash with the Springboks. O'Gara was forced out of the Heineken Cup defeat to Racing Metro in Paris on October 13 and came through training unscathed yesterday.
O'Gara's inclusion means Ian Keatley moves to inside-centre, having also started at full-back and in the No 10 shirt for the province this season.
Mike Sherry starts at hooker with Rory Best's injury keeping him and replacement Damien Varley on high alert for some game time this autumn. As it stands, Ireland have just two hookers in their squad: the incoming Richardt Strauss and his Leinster understudy, Sean Cronin.
Dave Foley and Billy Holland team up in the second-row for the first time, while Tommy O'Donnell makes his debut in the No 8 jersey at senior level.
Doug Howlett is back to skipper the side after being rested against Zebre last week, while centre Casey Laulala starts against his old club.
However, there is no place for new signing CJ Stander in the match-day squad. The former South Africa U-20 captain, who can play across the back-row, joined up with Munster from the Bulls this week but has been left out of the 23-man squad for the visit to the Arms Park, where the province have only won once -- way back in 2005.
Cardiff were blown away by Leinster in a record defeat last weekend and have lost front-line players like Sam Warburton, Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert among others to international duty since then.
In all, the Blues have made 11 changes but such a limp performance in Dublin is likely to illicit some sort of response from Phil Davies' side as they return to home soil.
"It was clear for all to see that last weekend's game against Leinster wasn't a very positive night for us," Davies conceded.
"Looking at the game we have ahead of us, Munster -- regardless of what 15 they put on the pitch -- are going to be hard and uncompromising up front.
"Laulala is always a threat, but we are looking forward to facing him on our home ground. Both sides have got a new coaching group who are trying to develop and change."
Cardiff Blues -- D Fish; T Williams, G Evans, D Hewitt, T James; J Tovey, L Jones; C Ma'afu, R Williams, T Filise; L Reed, J Down; R Copeland, J Navidi, A Pretorius. Reps: A Kyriacou, S Hobbs, R Harford, M Cook, L Hamilton, R Lewis, C Sweeney,O Williams.
Munster -- F Jones; D Howlett, 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. Reps: D Varley, J Ryan, W du Preez, I Nagle, P Butler, P Stringer, D Barnes, J Murphy.
Ref -- A McMenemy (SRU).
Cardiff Blues v Munster,
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