Munster are riding the crest of a wave at the moment and the challenge that awaits at Musgrave Park this evening is to continue that good run leading into next week’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final showdown against Toulouse.
Johann van Graan has clearly got one eye on what’s coming down the line, and that a Cardiff side, whose play-off hopes were over before they even started, arrive in Cork languishing in 14th place of the URC table provides Munster with an ideal opportunity to go into the Toulouse game on the back of another vital win.
As the weather has improved and the ground has firmed up, Munster have shown much more of an attacking spark, and while the true test will come at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow week, Van Graan will be hoping to fine-tune certain elements of the game-plan ahead of the visit of the defending European champions to Dublin.
Playing on the 4G surface should suit Munster, but Cardiff are also well used to playing on such a fast track.
The Welsh side do have the threats to cause Munster problems, but the hosts will be confident of doing a number of them.
The return of Peter O’Mahony from a slight knock is timely, while Simon Zebo is back in the team, having missed last week’s win over Ulster due to the birth of his child.
Munster will be hoping Leinster can do them a favour by beating the Stormers tomorrow – and if they can keep up their side of the bargain, by seeing off Cardiff, Van Graan’s men will climb into second place, with just one game of the regular season remaining.
As Munster have found out to their detriment in recent years, missing out on home advantage for the play-offs is costly, which is why there is no scope to take their eye off the ball here.
Van Graan has rotated his back-line, with Conor Murray and Ben Healy starting, while Rory Scannell gets a chance to impress in midfield alongside Chris Farrell.
Mike Haley continues at full-back, with Zebo back on the left wing, and Calvin Nash on the right.
Alex Kendellen will look to build on his impressive display in Belfast in a formidable back-row with O’Mahony and the in-form Jack O’Donoghue.
If Munster can put the squeeze on up front, especially in the tight-five of Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn and Thomas Ahern, it can set the platform for the likes of Zebo and Nash to thrive out wide.
It has been a positive few weeks for Munster and they should keep that feel-good mood going in Cork tonight, before they turn their attention to the small matter of Toulouse.
Munster – M Haley; C Nash, C Farrell, R Scannell, S Zebo; B Healy, C Murray; J Loughman, D Barron, J Ryan; J Kleyn, T Ahern; P O’Mahony (capt), A Kendellen, J O’Donoghue. Reps: S Buckley, J Wycherley, K Knox, J Jenkins, J Daly, C Casey, J Carbery, S Daly.
Cardiff – H Amos; O Lane, R Lee-Lo, M Llewellyn, T Cabango; J Evans, L Williams; R Carré, K Dacey, D Lewis; S Davies, R Thornton; J Botham, J Navidi (capt), J Ratti. Reps: K Myhill, B Thyer, K Assiratti, M Screech, E Jenkins, J Hill, R Priestland, G Smith.
Ref – S Grove-White (Scotland)
Munster v Cardiff,
Live, TG4/Premier Sports, 7.35