Ireland star Keith Earls has warned his Munster team-mates to beware the threat of Gareth Anscombe tonight when Cardiff Blues face the Irish province in Cork.
Earls was on the receiving end from Anscombe last month when Wales hammered Ireland 25-7 to seal the Six Nations Grand Slam on an afternoon when the Blues No.10 kicked six penalties and a conversion.
It was a performance that put to rest suggestions that the New Zealand-born kicker could still be vulnerable to the pressure of a big occasion and that Dan Biggar’s reliability with the boot would always be a safer option.
The Blues need that accuracy again tonight if they are going to stay on course for both the Guinness Pro 14 play-offs as well as qualification for next season’s Heineken Cup.
But Munster – currently second behind Glasgow in Conference A – also have their own requirement to win as they press for a direct semi-final spot and Earls stressed: “Our discipline will have to be spot on with Gareth Anscombe there.
“He will punish you as we saw in the Six Nations. He punished us a few weeks ago for Wales in Cardiff, so we’re going to have to be squeaky clean.”
Earls and his Irish international contingent have three reasons to seek revenge against the Blues.
Not only is there the lingering pain of that Six Nations defeat, but the Blues also handed Munster their biggest defeat of the season so far – a 36-13 thrashing at the Arms Park back in September.
Added to that, the Blues were the last team to beat Munster in Cork – where they play far fewer matches than in Limerick – when they won 24-23 in September 2016.
Earls added: “They gave us a bit of a pumping in Cardiff earlier in the year. They also have their Grand Slam winners back in the squad.
There were also the last team to beat us in Cork. They are level with Connacht and fighting for Europe as well as a play-off place in the Pro 14, so that suggests they’re a decent side.
“They have a lot of experience. They can match you up anywhere – they are physical, they can run the ball, and they also have a great kicking game. We will need to bring out A-game.
“But we need to win to keep the pressure on Glasgow, so there’s plenty to play for this week.
“When you come into April and May, these are all now massive games. But that’s where you want to be when the seasons starts – you aim for these matches.”
The Blues have made three changes from the team that overwhelmed the Scarlets, 41-17.
Shane Lewis-Hughes replaces Josh Navidi at blind-side flanker, while prop Dillon Lewis and second row Seb Davies also come into the pack.
Captain Kristian Dacey will make his 150th appearance for the region while wing Aled Summerhill will earn his 50th cap.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan has retained nine of his side that defeated Edinburgh in the Champions Cup quarter-final at Murrayfield last Saturday.
Tyler Bleyendaal starts at outside-half in place of the injured Joey Carbery and Mike Haley comes in at fullback as Andrew Conway moves to the wing with Darren Sweetnam making way.
There are four changes to the forwards pack. Kevin O’Byrne slots in at hooker, Billy Holland joins Jean Kleyn in the second row, and Chris Clote and Arno Botha come in alongside captain Peter O’Mahony in the back row.
Munster: Haley, Conway, Farrell, R Scannell, Earls; Bleyendaal, Murray; Kilcoyne, O’Byrne, Ryan, Kleyn, Holland, O’Mahony (capt), Cloete, Botha.
Replacements: N Scannell, Loughman, Archer, Beirne, Stander, Mathewson, Hanrahan, Arnold.
Cardiff Blues: Anscombe, Lane, Lee-Lo, Halaholo, Summerhill; Evans, T Williams; Gill, Dacey (capt), D Lewis, Davies, Thornton, Lewis-Hughes, Robinson, Turnbull.
Replacements: E Lewis, Thyer, Assiratti, Earle, Botham, L Williams, Smith, Morgan.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (FIR), Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)