SATURDAY, 7pm: Scarlets v Munster
THIS weekend's clash in Parc Y Scarlets is a huge game for both sides for many reasons and one which Munster simply have to win.
Munster head into a two-week break after this game and will still want to be leading the table from Glasgow by the end of the weekend.
That would be a huge psychological boost for the Reds. Scarlets have made the last two PRO14 finals and will be looking to add another this season but they still have plenty of work to do to get there.
Glasgow lost momentum during the November Series but have clearly got it back now and Munster can’t afford any slip-ups as they chase a home semi-final in the competition.
If Munster want to stay on top of their conference they are going to have get the win and Parc Y Scarlets isn’t an easy place to do that.
As Munster found out last weekend, going to Wales chasing a win is no easy task. They may strike some bit of comfort from the fact that they were able to beat a Welsh side away from home last weekend even if it did take a special moment near the end from Tadhg Beirne.
Scarlets, though, will be a bit more direct this week than Ospreys were and the home side will be leaning on their home record against Munster if the chips are down.
The Reds don’t have a particularly impressive record at the famous Welsh ground and with the likes of Kieran Fonotia a constant danger in their attack, Munster will have their work cut out to claim the win.
The battle for honours will start in the front-row and Scarlets showed what a solid unit they are in the front-row against Cheetahs last week and that was against a strong Cheetahs front-row.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that tighthead Werner Kruger is six foot, two square. He is a big unit and not afraid to carry but showed his real value in setpiece play against his compatriots last weekend.
Munster have a good bit of experience in their front-row as well for tomorrow and that should be a fascinating battle between the starting six. Munster’s sub front-rows look to be stronger than their counterparts and that could be vital towards the end of what should be an energy-sapping game.
Scarlets have clearly identified the forward battle as key judging by the experienced unit they are starting with tomorrow afternoon.
The scrums will be a real test for Munster but Johann van Graan’s side have been steamrolling a lot of teams this season up and while they won’t steamroll the Welsh side, they should have enough in the tank to see them off.
Munster have made a couple of changes again this week to their starting backs as van Graan continues to rotate his players to make sure they have game-time and keep some of his players with a high number of minutes a chance to recharge the batteries.
The changes made though will add to Munster’s strengths rather than take away from them but they will have to start well.
It has been a bit of an Achilles heel for Munster this season – up to last week – while Scarlets have been starting like a train this season and will have pinpointed that as a place and time they can get at Munster. They certainly did last weekend against the Cheetahs scoring four tries in the first quarter of the game and making it a huge uphill battle for the South African franchise.
In the backs, Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl and Kieran Fonotia will all present problems for Munster if they are not closed down early.
This is going to be a huge ask for Munster to make it back-to-back wins on the road but they should be strong enough to make a decent game of it and they will be using Cheetahs Gerhardus Olivier’s try as a template for their attacking formation with quick off-loads.
Munster will be looking to make sure they head into their two-week break as conference leaders.
Verdict: Narrow win for Munster.