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Saturday 16 December 2017

O'Gara can stake claim at Dragons

Jonathan Sexton is favourite to retain the 10 jersey for next weekend's visit of Wales to Croke Park but Ronan O'Gara is in superb form and will know a good performance this even-ing at Rodney Parade for Munster will make a strong argument for his inclusion.

The out-half has a strong team around him. Peter Stringer is a familiar partner at scrum-half, Lifeimi Mafi and the departing Jean de Villiers fill the centre slots with Doug Howlett on the right wing and Paul Warwick at full-back.

Denis Hurley is on the left wing as the Irish member of a three-quarter line packed with overseas ability. Up front, Marcus Horan gets the opportunity to continue his recent good form at loose-head while Tony Buckley will want to build from a decent cameo off the bench at Twickenham.

Denis Fogarty starts at hooker and will be determined to lift his line-out throwing to the high levels he has achieved with his all-round game this season. Mick O'Driscoll and his second-row partner Billy Holland, together with flanker Alan Quinlan and No 8 James Coughlan, will have to monitor the line-out presence of the giant Luke Charteris, who is also chasing selection for next Saturday's clash at Croke Park after an impressive outing in the defeat by France.

The seventh-placed Dragons are three positions and five points behind Munster.

"This is a big game for us," said Quinlan. "It is a very tight league, very competitive and our ambition is to be involved in the play-offs. Dragons have improved immensely from when we played them; they've beaten Leinster here and last time out they drew in Ravenhill. That makes them a very good side."

Verdict: Munster

DRAGONS: M Thomas; W Harries, M Watkins, A Smith, A Brew; J Tovey, W Evans; H Gustafson, T Willis (Capt), B Castle; A Jones, L Charteris; D Lydiate, G Thomas, L Evans. Reps: S Jones, P Palmer, R Sidoli, H Macdonald, T Riley, J Arlidge, J Leadbeater.

MUNSTER: P Warwick; D Howlett, L Mafi, J de Villiers, D Hurley; R O'Gara (Capt), P Stringer; M Horan, D Fogarty, T Buckley; M O'Driscoll, B Holland; A Quinlan, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan. Reps: D Varley, J Brugnaut, I Nagle, N Williams, D Williams, S Deasy, C O'Boyle.

Dragons v Munster

Tonight 6.30, Live Setanta Sports 1

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