Munster v Dragons: Reds make four changes with Jack Crowley at 10

Cork's Shane Daly, Crowley, Josh Wycherley and John Ryan all come into the line-up
Munster v Dragons: Reds make four changes with Jack Crowley at 10

Simon Zebo celebrates scoring his third, and his side's fourth, try during the United Rugby Championship match between Munster and Edinburgh at Thomond Park. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

MUNSTER face the Dragons on Saturday evening at Thomond Park in what, on paper, looks to be one of their easiest home ties of the entire campaign.

The Welsh sides have consistently underperformed in the URC, no matter what format this competition has taken down the years, with perhaps the exception of brief successful spells from the Ospreys and the Scarlets, but even when the other regions are struggling the Dragons have always still been the poor relation.

This year has been no exception in this regard with the Dragons only having an early October victory over Connacht and a home draw against Benetton in January to crow about in a campaign that has seen them lose every other game. 

Only lowly Zebre are below them in the table, and in their last match against Ulster, at home at Rodney Parade, they were nilled when losing 0-12. 

Munster will be expecting to win with ease on Saturday evening.  There are four changes to the side that defeated Edinburgh two weeks ago as Shane Daly, Jack Crowley, Josh Wycherley and John Ryan all come in.

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Shane Daly, Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin, Simon Zebo; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Josh Wycherley, Diarmuid Barron, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Jack O’Donoghue (c), Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes.

Subs: Niall Scannell, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Alex Kendellen, John Hodnett, Neil Cronin, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell.

Munster need the win too, as they look to climb the table even further after their last victory over Edinburgh a fortnight ago saw them leapfrog their Scottish rivals into fourth spot. 

Munster currently have a game in hand on both Glasgow and Ulster, and trail them by five and six points, respectively, so a five-pointer sure would be useful this weekend.

The top eight teams in the table will qualify for the quarter-finals, so Munster will have no concerns on that score, but a top-four berth guarantees a home quarter-final, and a top-two slot potentially gets you a home semi-final, so the higher the better.

This fixture is the first of nine in a row for Munster in the URC so it goes without question that Munster head coach Johann van Graan will be looking to utilise his entire squad during such a busy period in the season, and given that the internationals are currently away in Ireland camp this will serve as a superb opportunity for a number of the younger members of the squad to bolster their game time.

Craig Casey and Gavin Coombes will have been disappointed with their lack of minutes for Ireland in the Six Nations, Coombes in particular, as he has not featured at all, and probably won't now. 

The pair have been released back from the Irish camp and both will be keen to get back into the action in Munster red and show Andy Farrell what he is missing.

Other players who will be looking to remind Farrell that rugby exists outside of the RDS are the red-hot Simon Zebo, who has scored seven tries in seven appearances this season, Jack O’Donoghue, who seems permanently stuck on just two international caps, and Jean Kleyn, who at 6' 8" and over 19 stone offers the type of bulk and power that was severely lacking in the first half of France-Ireland a few weeks ago.

Munster’s young fly-halves will get more minutes on the pitch at this level, which is all money in the bank for them.

Annoyingly the likes of Damian de Allende, Roman Salanoa, Thomas Ahern, Matt Gallagher and Jack Daly are currently on the absent list, but Munster should still have more than enough in reserve to see off the challenge of the Dragons.

Munster have been extremely conservative in backing their young front-rowers this season, much to the frustration of Munster fans, who are eager to see the next generation in action, but one has to assume that van Graan and forwards coach Graham Rowntree are making these calls based on the evidence presented to them in training, and that is why they keep rolling out the experienced props such as Stephen Archer and John Ryan.

Munster are yet to lose a single scrum in the entire competition and, indeed, are ranked the best scrum statistically in the URC. 

The Dragons are ranked 5th in this category. You would imagine that if Munster are looking to get game time into the likes of Josh Wycherley and Keynan Knox then this is the perfect type of fixture to do so, as Munster should not have too much difficulty of winning this one in front of their own fans.

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