Defending champions Munster open their quest to retain their newly RaboDirect Pro 12 title when they face the Newport Gwent Dragon’s in Musgrave Park on saturday night at 7.45pm.
After their failures in the Heineken cup, Munster regrouped to end the season in stunning fashion recording 10 straight win’s that culminated in them winning the Grand Final
Munster coach Tony Gahan will be hoping that his side can bring that form and confidence into the new season, the Australian will have history on his side as he looks to get to early points on the board as in three season’s that Munster have opened at home they have never lost and they haven’t lost Celtic League game in Musgrave Park since May 2008.
Coupled with that Munster have a strong home record against their visitors, in fact since the formation of the Dragon’s back in 2003, the men in red have only lost once at home, a 16-6 loss at Thomond Park in 2004.
That was the last time that the Welsh side did the double over Munster and each season since Munster have claimed at least one win, their 50-6 win in 2008 representing their biggest ever points tally against Darren Edwards charges. In 16 league meeting’s to date, Munster have won 10 games with the Dragon’s winning six.
Last season Munster lost 20-06 away to the Dragons before recording an impressive 38-17 win at Musgrave Park, Doug Howlett bagging two tries that day with Johne Murphy also getting on the scoresheet.
Despite missing a number of players due to the Rugby World Cup, Gahan, who will name his first competitive team of the season on Friday, has selected a strong and experienced 28 man squad for the opener with the likes of Tomas O’Leary, John Hayes, Marcus Horan, Johne Murphy, Doug Howlett, Niall Ronan, Mike O’Driscoll and Lifeimi Maifi all set to be involved.
Summer signing Ian Keatley should get his first taste of competitive action in a red shirt while Danny Barnes and Simon Zebo who both finished last season with impressive fashion will be hoping to continue that form in to the new season.
Gahan will be counting the impact of Ireland’s poor form summer series as he looks set not only to rebuild the confidence of O’Leary and less so Hayes but also the loss of David Wallace and Felix Jones, both of whom face lenghty spells on the sidelines and miss important Heineken cup fixtures.
While Munster will be missing their International stars, the Dragons themselves are feeling the effects of the World cup as they are shorn of the services of five players with Loose forwards Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau, lock Luke Charteris, hooker Lloyd Burns and wing Aled Brew all set for New Zealand.
Wayne Evans returns to the squad after recovering from a shoulder injury sustained against Russia in pre season however despite returning from injury this game will come too soon for Lewis Evans.
Munster Squad: S Scanlon, J Murphy, D Howlett, D Hurley, S Zebo, L Mafi, D Barnes, S Deasy, I Keatley, D Williams, P Stringer, T O’Leary, M Horan, W du Preez, D Varley, M Sherry, S Archer, J Hayes, P Borlase, D Foley, M O’Driscoll, I Nagle, B Holland, D O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell, N Ronan, J Coughlan.
Dragons squad: M Thomas, S Jones, A Hughes, M Poole, P Leach,, T Riley, A Smith, J Tovey, W Evans, J Bedford, P Price, T Willis (captain), R Buckley, N Williams, D Way, B Castle, A Jones, J Groves, R Sidoli, A Coombs, G Thomas, H Ellis, T Brown
Prediction: Munster to prove too strong for the Dragons and to start this season as they ended last, with a win
Sportsnewsireland will have live score updates on this and all the other clashes involving Irish provinces for the coming season.