Written by Conal Lane
Well the winning streak that stretched back as far as December and encompassed some typical Munster performances is over, shit happens I guess.
A spirited second half performance from the Scarlets condemned the men in red to only a third PRO12 defeat of the season. More concerning for the outstandingly named Mr Erasmus will be the fact that his Munster side were comprehensively outscored 0-24 in the second half, realistically the damage was done in the third quarter with the eventual winning try coming on 62 mins.
Onwards and upwards though and this weekend sees an avenging trip to Cardiff, who eked out a single point triumph at Irish Independent Park in what seems a lifetime ago back in September. Player management sees Tyler Bleyendaal miss out, with Ian Keatley stepping into the breach upon his return (perhaps unfairly) from Ireland duty. Cardiff are in a similarly sticky selection situation, no Warburton, Cuthbert or Scott Andrews available this weekend. The Principalities capital side are treading water in the wilderness of the mid table, 16 points from a playoff berth and the same amount ahead of the failing four: Edinburgh, The Dragons, Treviso & Zebre.
Munster: Billy Holland, Jaco Taute
I for one was delighted when Billy Holland received his first (and so far only) international cap last November. A solid, dependable performer now into his tenth season for the men in red, he has been the de facto captain for most of this season which is a testament to the trust invested in him by coaches and management. Holland is not a superstar, nor will he ever aspire to be. No bullocking carries like CJ, seemingly impossible turnovers like Tommy O’Donnell or maniacal rucking and round the corner tackling like POM. What Holland will give is 100% commitment in everything he does, and that’s badly needed too.
Santa was good to all of us when he allowed Jaco Taute to extend his contract past Christmas 2016. I know I have bigged up the enormous South African before, but that was when Francis Saili was injured. Now Mr Saili is fit & firing, Taute is still selected ahead of the talented New Zealander. That’s not to say either player is better or more talented than the other, It just appears that Tautes speed off the defensive line, aggressive tackling and surprising turn of pace with ball in hand is maybe more suited to Munsters style of play this year
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Rees, Jarrad Hoeata
Tough as nails, Matthew Rees ladies and gentlemen. Battled back from testicular cancer in late 2013, barely a few months after switching from Scarlets to Cardiff. Wales’ most capped hooker is in the twilight years of his career and at 36 the likelihood of adding to those international caps is all but gone. Strong in the scrum and possessing an excellent lineout throw, however many minutes he lasts on Saturday will be crucial to the Blues chances of victory.
Kiwi hardman Jarrad Hoeata is into his third season in Cardiff, its safe to say that the lock cum back rower is enjoying himself. Thrice capped by the All Blacks in 2011 and with a wealth of Super Rugby experience behind him, including a playoff appearance in 2014 with the Highlanders, Hoeata somewhat typical of a New Zealand forward. Abrasive in all aspects of is his game and with the athleticism almost of a centre, he will give Munster’s 6/7/8 combination all sorts of trouble in the loose.
The 4G pitch in Cardiff is a nightmare at the best of times, and especially on a wet and windy weekend evening. Munster will probably be fuming at the manner of their defeat last weekend, and let’s be fair, rightly so too. It will be a stern examination of the squads togetherness and willingness to succeed, but one I believe they will pass.
Prediction: Munster by 5