Friday 23 March 2018

Munster trial new halfback pairing as Erasmus seeks response to Cardiff loss

'Munster are an infinitely better team when the Lion takes the field.' Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
'Munster are an infinitely better team when the Lion takes the field.' Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

If Anthony Foley ever pauses for a moment to wonder where his time as Munster's top man went wrong, last December's visit to Rodney Parade will feature prominently in his thoughts.

Up until the miserable 22-6 loss in Newport, last season was trucking along nicely for the two-time European champions and afterwards very little went right.

Foley was criticised for resting players for the game ahead of the European visit of Leicester Tigers that was coming a week later, so if Rassie Erasmus turned to him for advice this week he may have warned him against leaving the big guns behind.

In any event, the South African has reacted to last week's loss to Cardiff Blues by infusing his team with international experience.

Keith Earls and Conor Murray were due back this week anyway, but their presence will be welcomed by Reds fans concerned at the lack of control showed at Irish Independent Park last Friday night.

CJ Stander is promoted from the bench, while South African recruit Jean Kleyn makes his first start in the second-row.

Despite the Ireland star's inclusion, Billy Holland retains the captaincy and slips back into the back-row with Jack O'Donoghue taking over at openside from Tommy O'Donnell.

Tyler Bleyendaal reclaims the No 10 shirt from Ian Keatley who came in for yet more criticism for his role in last week's loss.

Perhaps more importantly, the New Zealander will have Murray alongside him. Munster are an infinitely better team when the Lion takes the field.

On paper, Erasmus's side should have no trouble securing a second win in Wales of the season.

The Dragons remain the poor relations in Wales and are set to struggle again this year, but the visit of the Sky cameras is a rare treat at Rodney Parade and the unheralded home side - which includes ex-Munster back Pat Howard - should lift their game.

Erasmus will want to see far more defensive aggression from his side who failed to recapture their line-speed against Cardiff after dominating the collisions against Scarlets on the opening weekend.

Munster didn't miss many tackles in the loss, but they allowed the Blues to keep the ball alive at critical junctures and paid the price.

With the ball, Erasmus will surely look for better decision-making from his charges.

The return of Earls to the centre adds to their game-breaking threat, while the back three of Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam and Ronan O'Mahony will do damage if given the right service.

In particular, Sweetnam has been earning rave reviews for his form and his ability to offload in contact adds a new dimension to what Munster offer.

Much will depend on Bleyendaal, the mystery man.

Since he's arrived in Ireland, the unfortunate Kiwi has been plagued with injury and, as a result, has been unable to show why the province invested so much in him.

The retention of the front-row should give the visitors continuity at the set-piece and allow Murray and Bleyendaal - who have never played together before - to control the game.

The Dragons got their first win of the campaign against Zebre last weekend, but the 11-6 scoreline won't have Munster worrying.

With Edinburgh visiting Thomond Park next week and a trip to Parma to come before the intensity increases against Leinster, there is a window to build up their points total.

Erasmus will want a response to last week's defeat and he should get it.

Verdict: Munster

DRAGONS - C Meyer; P Howard, T Morgan, J Dixon, H Amos; N MacLeod, S Pretorius; S Hobbs, R Buckley, B Harris; N Crosswell, R Landman; L Evans (capt), O Griffiths, E Jackson. Reps: D Harris, T Davies, C Mitchell, C Hill, J Thomas, C Davies, A O'Brien, A Warren.
MUNSTER - A Conway; D Sweetnam, K Earls, D Goggin, R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, D Ryan; B Holland (capt), J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander. Reps: D Casey, D Kilcoyne, B Scott, D O'Callaghan, C Oliver, D Williams, I Keatley, C O'Shea.
REF - D Phillips (IRFU)
Newport Gwent Dragons v Munster, 5.15; Sky Sports

Irish Independent

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