O'Gara to bag record cap as Penney blends youth with experience
RONAN O'GARA will become Munster's most capped player when he takes to the field against Cardiff Blues at Musgrave Park tomorrow to win his 233rd competitive cap.
Munster coach Rob Penney has opted to blend some of his marquee stars with youthful faces for the game in Cork, with just four players – skipper Doug Howlett, centre James Downey, scrum-half Conor Murray and Tommy O'Donnell – retaining their places from the team that faced Ulster in their last outing.
Keith Earls, as revealed earlier this week, makes his return from injury and partners Downey in the centre, while CJ Stander also returns after a spell out to be named on the bench.
It is a very strong team, one that will bear a strong resemblance to the side which will take on Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup next weekend, although Penney has thrown in a couple of novices.
"It's not exactly the same team that will play in the Heineken Cup (against Edinburgh)," said Penney. "I've got a more broad brushstroke approach to the selection policy.
"I'm new to the concept of playing two competitions simultaneously and I think we can grow people without compromising either team.
"After we get through the two Heineken Cup games we lose all our internationals, so it would be difficult for the guys who will then fill in for them to do so without any post-Christmas footy.
"We need to balance selections out and that's what we've tried to do this weekend, while also looking to what's coming."
One very exciting and timely selection is that of Earls in the centre.
"Keith looks good," said Penney. "He came through the camp last week and on the back of that we held him back because of his history (with injuries). But he's come through this week really well and looks excited and ready to go, which is great."
Cardiff put it up to Munster in the corresponding fixture in November and Penney is expecting another searching test tomorrow night.
"It was a really tough game away the last time we played. They've probably been one of the unluckier teams results wise.
"They've been there or thereabouts and picked up a couple of good results recently and I think they'll come here having a couple of their long-term injuries maybe back in the frame.
"They'll be really tough and we haven't gone that well at Musgrave Park, which we need to rectify."
Munster – F Jones; D Howlett (capt), K Earls, J Downey, J Murphy; R O'Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley, D Ryan; T O'Donnell, S Dougall, J Coughlan. Reps: S Henry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, B Holland, CJ Stander, D Williams, I Keatley, C Laulala.