Jones puts credentials on line
RABODIRECT PRO12 Cardiff Blues v Munster:THESE 80 minutes matter to Felix Jones and Ronan O’Gara. The returning Munster fullback and outhalf must prove their fitness to have any chance of being involved in Ireland’s opening November international against South Africa tomorrow week.
Both players may be at opposite ends of their international careers (three caps versus 124 caps) but the same situation applies. Both are going to have to perform behind what is largely a young and inexperienced Munster eight.
For Jones the stakes are high. It is a genuine opportunity to come back from his latest period of exile in a career ruptured by injury.
What has already been established is the 25-year-old is a quality fullback. This is a valuable resource with Brian O’Driscoll’s injury forcing Declan Kidney to probably deploy Keith Earls at outside centre.
Tommy Bowe is more winger than 15 so a well-rounded performance here could get Jones’ name back up in lights.
For O’Gara it is a matter of proving his hamstring has healed enough for Kidney to name him on the bench ahead of young pretenders like Ian Keatley, who starts at inside centre tonight.
Captain Doug Howlett also returns to the right wing.
In theory this should be a stroll for Munster – even with such an inexperienced pack – as the Cardiff performance at the RDS last weekend was widely condemned as disgraceful, or at the very least embarrassing to such a proud jersey.
They return to the spiritual home of Welsh rugby but without eight internationals, including Jamie Roberts, Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and Bradley Davies.
Not that any of these men looked like the top level performers they are in Welsh red when Leinster gutted the Blues to the tune of 59-22.
It was the fifth defeat running for Phil Davies’ team and sparked 11 changes, three positional, from the atrocious showing in Dublin. They were so bad it seemed like the Welsh players had already departed for their Spala training camp.
The Blues season could unravel further tonight although victory would keep them in the top half of the table. They currently lie seventh, four points adrift of Munster in fifth. So this one matters. Well, it should matter but after Cardiff’s recent showing it’s hard to know if anything matters to them at all.
Maybe the sight of Casey Laulala in a Munster jersey will provoke an improved effort.
“It was clear for all to see that last weekend’s game against Leinster wasn’t a very positive night for us,” said Davies.
“Like ourselves they’re a team with some new individuals there and they’re trying to change the way they play a bit and it going to be tough. They’ll be still uncompromising up front and tough at the breakdown and they kick extremely well. So we’re still going to have the same old problem that we have with Munster.
“But we want to get back to the Arms Park and try to play in front of the supporters and put a passionate performance in for ourselves and for them as well and try and get a win.”
After last week’s debacle, they owe the jersey and the 12 a performance of note.
CARDIFF BLUES: D Fish; T Williams, G Evans, D Hewitt, T James; J Tovey, L Jones; C Ma’afu, R Williams, T Filise, L Reed, J Down, R Copeland, J Navidi, A Pretorius (capt). Replacements: A Kyriacou, S Hobbs, R Harford, M Cook, L Hamilton, R Lewis, C Sweeney, O Williams.
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett capt, C Laulala, I Keatley, L O’Dea; R O’Gara, D Williams; M Horan, M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley, B Holland; Dave O’Callaghan, S Dougall, T O’Donnell. Replacements: D Varley, J Ryan, W du Preez, I Nagle, P Butler, P Stringer, D Barnes, J Murphy.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy(SRU).
Verdict: Munster win.