Depleted Munster can still slay Dragons
Welsh club have really struggled when facing Irish provinces in recent times
Bill Johnston: Munster outhalf gets his opportunity to impress against the Dragons at Rodney Parade. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Dragons v Munster, Rodney Parade, Saturday, 3pm - Live Eir Sport 1, TG4
The Portuguese sun keeps any player in swinging distance of Ireland selection out of this equation but Munster’s foreign recruits and a healthy supply of homegrown talent should have few if any problems.
Plenty will relish the opportunity, none more than Bill Johnston, whose progress at outhalf is expected to accelerate following a string of injury lay-offs. With his talent always unquestioned, he just needs this sort of exposure.
Same goes for Conor Oliver at openside.
The Dragons have struggled as long as anyone remembers them as nothing more than a speed bump for the Irish provinces.
The relationship with former Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman as head coach ended in December following the 59-10 thumping by Leinster on home soil.
Munster minus the international contingent, led by a regenerating Tyler Bleyendaal at inside centre, come hunting arguably the easiest of away scalps.
“Things had been difficult for a while,” Jackman told The42.ie rugby podcast. “There is a lot of restructuring going to happen in Welsh rugby. I certainly felt we needed to get strong support financially to be able to kick on. It wasn’t really clear that was going to come. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to finish a job there but if you are not going to finish it you are better off being out as quick as possible.
“I’ve no regrets around the restructuring we’ve done. I hope the next man in gets a chance to keep those structures in place and maybe add to them.”
The bounce that can come with the appointment of a new coach, in this case Ceri Jones, hasn’t really happened in the Pro 14 with defeats to Cardiff and Scarlets interrupted by a 23-22 win over the Ospreys.
This afternoon’s opponents have the opposite win, loss ratio – nine to four – leaving Johan va Graan’s men sitting top of Conference A.
Expect that position to be cemented.
DRAGONS: Jordan Williams; Jared Rosser, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Will Talbot-Davies; Josh Lewis, Rhodri Williams; Brok Harris, Richard Hibbard (capt), Lloyd Fairbrother; Joe Davies, Matthew Screech; Harrison Keddie, Nic Cudd, Ollie Griffiths.
Replacements: Rhys Lawrence, Rhys Fawcett, Dan Suter, Lewis Evans, Taine Basham, Rhodri Davies, Jason Tovey, Zane Kirchner.
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Tyler Bleyendaal (capt), Ronan O’Mahony; Bill Johnston, Alby Mathewson; Jeremy Loughman, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Fineen Wycherley, Conor Oliver, Arno Botha.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Liam O’Connor, Ciaran Parker, Darren O’Shea, Gavin Coombes, Neil Cronin, Calvin Nash, Jaco Taute.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England).
Verdict: Munster win.