Penney rolls out big guns as Perpignan loom large
Van den Heever starts as Munster look to maintain fire against Dragons
WITH crucial back-to-back Heineken Cup matches against Perpignan on the horizon, Munster coach Rob Penney has rolled out some of his big guns ahead of what is potentially a season-defining fortnight.
Despite playing every minute of both the Australia and New Zealand Tests on successive weekends, Paul O'Connell goes straight into the side as Munster make 12 changes to the team that comfortably saw off Cardiff Blues last week.
But perhaps Munster supporters will be most interested in seeing new wing Gerhard van den Heever in action for the first time.
The powerfully built South African didn't play last week as he landed here with a slight groin niggle, but he has teamed up with compatriots CJ Stander and BJ Botha in the match-day squad.
van den Heever's arrival was delayed by Western Province's run to the Currie Cup final and he comes into a backline that has been almost completely revamped.
In fact, full-back Felix Jones is the only survivor from the win over the Blues, as Keith Earls returns from injury to start at outside-centre alongside James Downey.
Denis Hurley comes onto the left wing for his first start since injuring his knee against Gloucester, while Ian Keatley starts at 10, suggesting he has done enough to see off the challenge of JJ Hanrahan for the visit of the French outfit on Sunday week.
Tommy O'Donnell, who captains the side, and Stander are the only survivors in the pack as Munster look to maintain their position at the top of the table.
And while Munster might have one eye on the visit of the French side, they have won just one of their last four visits to Rodney Parade, something Stephen Archer referenced this week.
"It's very important to build the momentum," he said. "It would be easy to look ahead to Perpignan, but we've got to keep our feet on the ground and concentrate on the Dragons.
"They're sneaking up the table after that win against Glasgow and we've had a difficult time over there before. I've played there three times and only won once, so hopefully we can get a win."
Archer was one of those who came in for some criticism in the wake of Ireland's defeat to Australia, but he gets the nod to start ahead of Springbok Botha, with David Kilcoyne and Mike Sherry making up the front-row.
James Coughlan is another to have endured a frustrating international window having been overlooked for selection and he is happy to be back in the thick of the action.
"It was a frustrating few weeks I suppose, but it's great to be back," said Coughlan. "It's a massive run-in now for us. I think the lads have been putting in some massive work while we've been away and it showed in bits and pieces last Saturday night.
"Now we have to kick on this weekend and then to the Perpignan games. There's a good buzz around the place.
"The Dragons haven't had the break that we have had either. They've had LV Cup and you can see they're battle-hardened and maybe that's where Glasgow got caught (last week).
"Newport have had those four weeks of games every week and Glasgow were missing a few internationals and having had the break in between for the internationals so they (Dragons) are battle-hardened.
"Any of us who have played in Newport know it's an extremely difficult fixture so we know what's in front of us."
The Dragons have lost just once in their last seven games in all competitions at home and while Munster have opted for change, the Welsh region have kept the same side that won last week. "There is a lot of youth in our team and it was an important and enjoyable win (over Glasgow) but having Munster around the corner helped ensure that we stayed grounded," skipper Robert Sidoli said.
"They are excellent at working out their opposition and the defeat to them (in Cork) is still fresh in our minds. We have to prepare for them in a very clinical way."
Dragons -- D Evans; W Harries, P Leach, R Wardle, M Pewtner; J Tovey, R Rees; O Evans, S Parry, F Chaparro; C Hill, R Sidoli; L Evans, N Cudd, N Talei. Reps: E Dee, A Coundley, D Way, M Screech, I Jones, W Evans, S Jones, A Smith.
Munster -- F Jones; G van den Heever, K Earls, J Downey, D Hurley; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell; B Holland (Capt.), CJ Stander, J Coughlan. Reps: D Varley, J Cronin, BJ Botha, I Nagle, B O'Mahony, C Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, I Dineen
Ref -- M Mitrea