Rugby Union

Munster aim to break Llanelli hoodoo

Simon Zebo starts at full-back for Munster today as they go in search of a first away win against Scarlets since 2011.
Cahair O'Kane

Guinness Pro 12: Munster v Scarlets (today, 3pm, Parc y Scarlets, live on Sky Sports 1); Connacht v Glasgow (5.15pm, Sportsground, live on Sky Sports 1)

A FEW months shy of five years ago, Ronan O'Gara kicked Munster to a Heineken Cup win in the pre-Christmas Llanelli rain. They haven't won there since.

There were draws in 2012 and 2015, the latter of which saw the Irish province claw their way back from 25-13 down with just five minutes remaining.

There could be no better start to Rassie Erasmus's reign but on the strength of the two teams, it looks a tall order for Munster to break that sequence.

The first team that Munster's new director of rugby has named for a competitive game contains 14 starting players that have come up through the club's development programme, with All Black fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal the one exception.

That's the flipside of the policy that will see Ruan Pienaar forced out the exit door at the Kingspan Stadium, and the IRFU would certainly point to such a statistic as justification for their outlook.

The newest cap will be young centre Dan Goggin, who was reared in the shadow of Thomond Park and has spent the 21-and-three-quarter years of his life so far dreaming that this afternoon would come.

Impressive displays against Zebre and Worcester Warriors in their two pre-season games were enough to earn him a spot in midfield alongside Ronan Scannell.

Bleyendall will make his first Pro12 appearance since Munster's inter-provincial defeat by Leinster on December 27 last year. He is handed the number 10 shirt, with Ian Keatley held in reserve.

Returning international pair Donnacha Ryan and Dave Kilcoyne could see some game time from a bench that includes academy prop Brian Scott and young second row Jean Kleyn, who is included in a Pro12 matchday squad for the first time.

The Scarlets' backline has menace and experience in equal measure. International trio Scott Williams, Liam Williams and Gareth Davies are joined by their newest recruit, Rhys Patchell.

While his early appearances for Wales have been at full-back, he signed from Cardiff Blues in the summer so that he could concentrate on his preferred out-half position, and that's where he starts this afternoon.

Munster will also have to contend with the prospect of seeing Jonathan Davies sprung from the bench at some stage as he returns to Parc y Scarlets after two years in France with Clermont Auvergne.

Meanwhile, four months after claiming a momentous first ever Pro12 title, Connacht are bracing themselves for a testing first defence as they bring Glasgow to the Sportsground.

Gregor Townsend – who will leave Glasgow at the end of the season to take over as Scotland boss – admits that his players are bring driven by two crucial defeats at the venue in the space of as many weeks in May.

Warriors lost their title with a 16-11 play-off defeat, two weeks after ending their regular season with a 14-7 loss at the Sportsground.

"To go back to the same venue against the same team is highly motivating for us as a group," he said.

"The disappointment was really tangible for a few players in the changing room. There were players who hadn't experienced that level of defeat with the club: Jonny Gray and Finn Russell have played in two finals since they have been professionals.

"It was a great day for Connacht and they were deserved winners and deserved champions, but it was a real disappointment on our behalf."

Scotland internationals Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Jonny Gray return to the Warriors' starting line-up after missing their pre-season fixtures, while Italian winger Leonardo Sarto makes his competitive debut.

Cian Kelleher will make his debut for Connacht at full-back, while Eoin Griffin returns after two years with London Irish and starts in midfield alongside Bundee Aki.

Up front, Donie Buckley returns from an ankle injury to join a strong pack that includes Irish duo Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane as well as Nepia Fox-Matamua and inspirational captain John Muldoon.

Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, D Goggin, R Scannell, R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, D Williams; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Foley, B Holland; D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue

Replacements: K O'Byrne, D Kilcoyne, B Scott, J Kleyn, D Ryan, T O'Leary, I Keatley, C Bohane

Scarlets: L Williams; DTH van der Merwe, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; D Evans, K Owens, W Kruger; J Ball, L Rawlins; A Shingler, J Barclay, J Macleod

Replacements: R Elias, W Jones, P Edwards, D Bulbring, T Beirne, J Evans, D Jones, J Davies

Connacht: C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, D Qualter; E McKeon, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon

Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughrey, JP Cooney, L Stevenson, J Connolly, K Marmion, S O'Leary, P Robb

Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg; A Sarto, A Dunbar, S Johnson, T Seymour; P Horne, H Pyrgos; G Reid, P MacArthur, Z Fagerson; T Swinson, J Gray; R Harley, S Favaro, R Wilson

Replacements: C Flynn, R Grant, S Puafisi, T Uanivi, L Wynne, A Price, R Clegg, S Lamont

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