Murray gets nod for Munster's final push
Published 25/03/2011 | 05:00
It's back to the hard facts of the Magners League for the stars of the Six Nations, and for league leaders Munster the mission is to guide the ship home.
After the angst of their Heineken Cup exit, Tony McGahan and Co have steadily kept on track for the play-offs and, with five matches to go, they are sitting comfortably 14 points clear of tonight's opponents Cardiff Blues, who are in fifth.
But with three trips to the stronger Welsh regions and home games against Leinster and Connacht, the Munster men know they have some tough matches to come, meaning victory this evening against an understrength Cardiff would be the perfect fillip.
To that end, the return of captain Paul O'Connell along with Keith Earls, Ronan O'Gara and Denis Leamy from the international ranks means that an A-list side will take on the Welshmen.
Earls reverts to the wing as the highly-rated Felix Jones makes his first start since September in a strong back-line that includes Garryowen scrum-half Conor Murray, who keeps Peter Stringer on the bench, and McGahan has plenty confidence in the youngster.
"Conor has been a consistent member of the senior squad in training over the past 12 months because of international call-ups and injuries," he said.
"He impressed the coaching staff and fellow players with an enthusiastic and mature display in his first professional start against the Dragons and deserves to be in the mix competing with Peter and Duncan (Williams) for game time with Tomas O'Leary's unfortunate bout of injuries."
Stringer will be joined on the bench by Marcus Horan, who deputises for Wian du Preez, while Tony Buckley starts.
The Blues have opted to keep much of their firepower on the bench and Munster won't want to see Bradley Davies, Jamie Roberts and Dan Parks introduced to a tight affair.
Leigh Halfpenny starts, while the back row of Andries Pretorius, Martyn Williams and Xavier Rush will cause problems at the breakdown.
Cardiff need a win to keep up their push for a play-off place and coach Dai Young reckons the sight of the red jersey should get his charges moving.
"Munster will always focus the minds of our squad and are always formidable," he said. "They are very physical, they do the basics really well and I think they have a squad that is as strong as anyone's in the league.
"That's why they are always at the top. There is competition for places in their team and that keeps everyone on their toes. They have a great tradition and fight for everything that goes with the shirt."
Ulster and Leinster will be hoping that their provincial rivals can do a job for them in the race for the other play-off spots, but a win for Munster would suit their own selfish reasons and move them closer to a late-season flourish.
CARDIFF BLUES -- C Czekaj; R Mustoe, C Laulala, D Hewitt, L Halfpenny; C Sweeney, L Williams; J Yapp, R Williams, S Andrews; M Paterson, P Tito (Capt); A Pretorius, M Williams, X Rush. Reps: K Dacey, N Trevett, S Hobbs, B Davies, M Molitika, T Slater, D Parks, J Roberts.
MUNSTER -- F Jones; D Howlett, J Murphy, L Mafi, K Earls; R O'Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley; P O'Connell (Capt), M O'Driscoll; J Coughlan, N Ronan, D Leamy. Reps: M Sherry, M Horan, S Archer, D Ryan, P O'Mahony, P Stringer, S Tuitupou, D Cusack.
Cardiff Blues v Munster,
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