Munster to start Gerbrandt Grobler in Cardiff

Tyler Bleyendaal will make his comeback from a next injury in Cardiff

Cardiff Blues v Munster
Arms Park, 5.30pm – Sky Sports

This fixture plays out against two interesting backdrops - the Cardiff Blues coaching problems and a first Pro 14 start for Gerbrandt Grobler.

Munster (“and the IRFU”) felt the need to release a statement concerning Grobler ahead of his selection on the bench against Zebre last weekend, reopening the furore surrounding the 26-year-old South African lock who served a two-year ban for steroid use.

Grobler, who the province see “as a member of the Munster squad and living by our values,” starts in the second row alongside Darren O’Shea and if last week’s 21 minute contribution, before which he received a standing ovation from the Limerick crowd, is anything to go by Johann van Graan is adding an enormously powerful weapon to his pack.


The impact of Grobler will initially overshadow the return of Tyler Bleyendaal who is now qualified to play for Ireland under the three-year residency law. However, the clearly talented New Zealand outhalf has struggled with neck problems since October and previously underwent neck surgery, which delayed his arrival in Munster until January 2015.

Besides Bleyendaal providing cover for Ian Keatley, the bench has a potentially game changing look to it. James Hart, like Grobler another signing from Racing 92, has not played since December while Simon Zebo and Jean Kleyn are fairly useful reserves for any team.

With CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony preparing to face Wales next Saturday, Jack O’Donoghue captains the team for the first time. O’Donoghue is a proven leader having led the Ireland under-20s at the 2014 World Cup.

What of Cardiff's incoming head coach? Gert Smal, the forwards coach when Ireland won the Grand Slam, and Geordan Murphy, the man who booted the ball into Row Z on that famous Cardiff day, have been mentioned.

The Blues are in clear transition having just lost backs coach Matt Sherratt to the Ospreys, so they wander into this game with plenty of problems.

“Munster play a bit more of a power game (than the Cheetahs) with a strong set-piece and a very accurate kicking game, which we’ll have to deal with,” said temporary head coach Danny Wilson. “We can put our imprint on the game, as we did against the Cheetahs, and score some good tries. Hopefully we can pick up another good win, which would be really big for us in the table.

“It does make for an exciting game. We’ve had a couple of good wins over the past two years against Munster and had a couple of difficult losses. This is a massive home game for us and what’s pleasing for me is that home form has been really good. It’s an exciting game for supporters to come to watch.”

The five point handicap in Munster’s favour seems generous. With Grobler leading the way up front and major reinforcements due for the last quarter, they could well steal four points on the road. Such a victory would cement Munster’s second position in Conference A, behind runaway leaders Glasgow, and further widen the 19 point gulf from them to Cardiff in fourth place.

Cardiff Blues: Rhun Williams; Aled Summerhill, Garyn Smith, Rey Lee-Lo, Owen Lane; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins (capt), Matthew Rees, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, Seb Davies, Macauley Cook, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams. Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Gill, Dillon Lewis, Josh Turnbull, Olly Robinson, Tomos Williams, Steven Shingler, Ryan Edwards

Munster: Stephen Fitzgerald; Darren Sweetnam, Sammy Arnold, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, John Ryan; Gerbrandt Grobler, Darren O’Shea; Jack O’Donoghue (capt), Chris Cloete, Robin Copeland. Replacements: Mike Sherry, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Dave O’Callaghan, James Hart, Tyler Bleyendaal, Simon Zebo.

Referee: S Berry (Scotland).

Betting: Cardiff (+5) 10/11.

Verdict: Munster win.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent