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Chris Cloete set for debut as Munster look for rhythm

Darren O’Shea and Sam Arnold in senior squad for first time as Jean Kleyn returns

Munster’s Rhys Marshall and Chris Cloete during training. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Munster v Dragons, Musgrave Park (Friday, 7.35pm, live on TG4)

Quite apart from a vested interest in the outcome Munster supporters will be keen to get a firsthand look at their 26-year-old South African flanker Chris Cloete, who will make his debut for the Irish province.

The former South Africa Schools and A forward will form part of an athletic backrow alongside Jack O’Donoghue and Robin Copeland. Jean Kleyn returns from injury and will partner captain Billy Holland, the latter making his 170th appearance for Munster in a season in which he’s started all nine matches for the province. Academy prospect Liam O’Connor is named at loosehead prop.

JJ Hanrahan gets an opportunity in the number 10 jersey while Alex Wootton is named on the left wing having recovered from injury. The former Ireland underage international is Munster’s top try scorer (five) this season and forms part of a young backline with plenty of footballing ability and the strike threat of Simon Zebo from fullback.

Darren O’Shea and Sam Arnold are set for a first involvement with the senior side this season while James Cronin is another who has suffered an injury-plagued time. Munster are without their international contingent but it still represents a strong team looking to end a run of a couple of defeats in the Guinness Pro14 against provincial siblings Connacht and Leinster; both games were away from home.

Firepower

They face a Dragons side that are without four players seconded to the Welsh squad as their coach Bernard Jackman makes 10 changes to the team beaten by Ospreys in their last outing. Tonight’s visitors have also lost their last two games.

Munster’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, speaking ahead of what could be his last game in charge of the province as Johann van Graan is due to arrive in Limerick next week, admitted: “The Dragons certainly have some firepower and it’s going to be a massive challenge for us.

“It shows how much he [Bernard Jackman] has got right in a short space; they are building, building and gaining confidence and had some really good games, so it’s going to be tough.”

Munster will be keen to rediscover a playing rhythm both in terms of securing a result ensuring that they go into the mini-break on a positive note. Hanrahan gets a change to lay down a marker and if the pack can provide a platform, then there’s plenty of ability behind the scrum to maximise the return.

MUNSTER: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, R Scannell, A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams; L O’Connor, R Marshall, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; J O’Donoghue, C Cloete, R Copeland. Replacements: K O’Byrne, J Cronin, B Scott, D O’Shea, M Flanagan, J Hart, I Keatley, S Arnold.

DRAGONS: W Talbot-Davies; A Hewitt, A Warren, J Dixon, J Rosser; A O’Brien, C Davies; T Davies, G Ellis, L Fairbrother; J Davies, R Landman; A Wainwright, J Benjamin, J Sheekey. Replacements: L Belcher, L Garrett, B Harris, S Andrews, B Roach, S Pretorius, A Robson, P Howard.

Referee: M Adamson (Scotland)