by James Dodd
Pro14: Munster v Cardiff Blues
Kick Off: 20:15
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick
CARDIFF Blues will be hoping to record three wins from three when they travel to Munster in an historic Monday night Pro14 match.
John Mulvihill has made six changes to the side that claimed a bonus point win over Connacht.
Munster, who are also unbeaten, have made nine changes from their win over Edinburgh.
Munster: Mike Haley, Calvin Nash, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Darren Sweetnam, Ben Healy, Craig Casey; James Cronin, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland (C), Jack O’Donoghue, John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Josh Wycherley, Roman Salanoa, Jean Kleyn, Chris Cloete, Nick McCarthy, JJ Hanrahan, Damian de Allende.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Aled Summerhill, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Hallam Amos, Jared Evans, Lloyd Williams (C); Corey Domachowski, Kristian Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, Ben Murphy, Rory Thornton, James Ratti, James Botham, Olly Robinson.
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Sam Moore, Alun Lawrence, Lewis Jones, Jason Tovey, Garyn Smith.
Munster have several key players away on international duty, including British and Irish Lion’s Conor Murray, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony.
Other players include ex-Scarlet Tadhg Beirne, John Ryan, Chris Farrell, Andrew Conway and uncapped Shane Daly.
Cardiff also have several internationals absent. Probably their biggest blow will be wing Josh Adams, who has scored eight tries in only ten appearances for the region.
Shane Lewis-Hughes, who has made the most tackles and turnovers in the league so far, has been called up to the Welsh squad in place of Josh Macleod.
Young props Rhys Carre and Dilion Lewis are also missing, alongside second row pairing Cory Hill and Seb Davies.
Josh Navidi, who suffered a concussion a few weeks ago, remains unavailable.
Players to watch
Having appeared in both games against Scarlets and Edinburgh, Ben Healy will be looking to add to his 30 points from the boot. This includes the winning penalty in Llanelli at the death.
The Irish side will also be looking to utilise their strength in depth from the bench. An example being South African World Cup winner Damian de Allende in the backline.
After only just returning after 11 months from a knee injury, Willis Halaholo will be relishing this opportunity to finally break free and show his silky footwork.
Hallam Amos is another that can cause damage. He managed a brace two weeks ago against Connacht.
Just like a true Munster outfit, this one knows how to win. They were 24-10 down against the Scarlets with 13 minutes to go and still found a way to win. In addition, with less than five minutes on the clock, they were down 18-23 to Edinburgh.
The fierce Thomond Park crowd may not be in attendance, but Munster will still back their forward power and game plan that they can come away with the W.
Cardiff have shown great examples of both their defence and attack so far in the Pro14.
Going down to 14 men at the start of the second half against Zebre after Josh Turnbull had been red carded and only conceding 6 points in the entire game really showed the maturity in the team.
Against Connacht, they managed to weather an Irish onslaught, and finish the last quarter incredibly strongly thanks to a Hallam Amos try, as well as a penalty try and one from Kristian Dacey.
Let’s not forget their fantastic breakdown work. Olly Robinson will be looking to slow Munster’s ball down and grab a few turnovers.
Munster don’t have an issue scoring points, but they do give points away easily at times. Against the Scarlets, Leigh Halfpenny kicked nine penalties, resulting in 27 points. This poor discipline will certainly be in the back off the Blues’ minds for them to exploit.
If the Blues want to maximise their chances of winning, then their line out and scrum will need to be solid. Both have been issues in the past, especially the line out. Experienced hooker Kristian Dacey will be looking to resolve any issues.
Point to prove
If there is one man that has a point to prove, it is John Mulvihill. This is his third season in charge of the capital region and it’s fair to say there has not been much joy at Cardiff Arms Park.
In the 2018/19 season, Cardiff started with three losses. Last season, they had only won one game in their opening five. This is the perfect opportunity for Mulvihill to start well, and not need his team to chase other sides in the final weeks.
This is an exciting clash – first against third in Conference B locking horns. On paper and historically, Munster are the better side. They haven’t lost at home to Cardiff since September 2016 and won the only game between the two sides, 33-23, last season. They also know how to win whatever the circumstance. However, the absence of a passionate home crowd will certainly help the Blues, who are on a three-game winning streak.
Overall, this is definitely Cardiff’s hardest task so far in the 2020/21 season, and I believe Munster will just edge it. Munster by 7.