Thursday 19 September 2019

Van Graan keeps big guns in play for play-off push

Johann van Graan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Johann van Graan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Munster's two-pronged approach to the end of the season sees Johann van Graan stick with a host of front-liners in an attempt to secure top spot in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14.

Despite a bruising win over Edinburgh last Saturday, the South African has kept his big guns in play for the visit of Cardiff Blues to Irish Independent Park. Connacht may thank him later.

The Welsh capital club are in fine form and are neck-and-neck with the Irish province for the final play-off spot with three games remaining.

Munster, however, are ensconced in second and have designs on catching Glasgow Warriors.

If they do, they'd guarantee themselves a potentially lucrative home semi-final and a weekend off, when the quarter-finals take place, that would help ease the burden.

Beating Saracens is the main objective in the coming weeks, but the PRO14 is a winnable competition for the men in red who are desperate for silverware.

This clash will give the majority of the team that will face Saracens a further opportunity to bed in.

Pulling

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Mike Haley returns after pulling out of last week's game with illness, Andrew Conway reverts to the wing and Tyler Bleyendaal and Conor Murray link up at half-back.

Up front, Niall Scannell, Tadhg Beirne and CJ Stander will provide impact from the bench, as Chris Cloete and Arno Botha come in to the back-row. Billy Holland starts at lock and Kevin O'Beirne comes in at hooker.

Out of the European picture, Cardiff have had a two-week lead-in to this game.

John Mulvihill makes three changes to the team that hammered Scarlets a fortnight ago with ex-Munster No 8 Nick Williams a big loss to the back-row.

Still, the Welsh side travel with confidence.

"To reach the play-offs we will probably need to win two of our three remaining PRO14 fixtures, but we want to take any doubt out of the equation and that means winning all three," Mulvihill said.

"Munster are a top-class team but we are going to Cork to play and put them under real pressure."

This is a chance for Van Graan's men to build momentum in a crucial month.

Verdict: Munster

MUNSTER - M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, K O'Beirne, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), C Cloete, A Botha. Reps: N Scannell, J Loughman, S Archer, T Beirne, CJ Stander, A Mathewson, JJ Hanrahan, S Arnold.

CARDIFF BLUES - G Anscombe; O Lane, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, A Summerhill; J Evans, T Williams; R Gill, K Dacey (capt), D Lewis; S Davies, R Thornton; S Lewis-Hughes, O Robinson, J Turnbull. Reps: E Lewis, B Thyer, K Assiratti, G Earle, J Botham, L Williams, G Smith, M Morgan.

Ref - M Mitrea (Italy).

Munster v Cardiff Blues

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