RaboDirect Pro12 preview: Munster look to take early round two advantage
Round two of RaboDirect Pro12 begins with four Friday fixtures featuring Munster, Cardiff Blues, Ulster and the Dragons.
By Ben Hampshire - Follow me: @BH92
Last Updated: 13/09/13 10:43pm
Zebre will once again look to bring their barren spell in the Pro12 to an end as they host a Munster side who ran in five tries on the opening weekend.
Andrea Manici did cross the line for Zebre but it was not enough to prevent a 25-16 defeat to Connacht as the Italians opened their campaign in an all-too familiar fashion.
Rob Penney's men on the other hand enjoyed a successful opening day with five tries, including a debut touchdown for James Cronin, in a 34-23 victory over Edinburgh.
Zebre winger Leonardo Sarto makes his first start of the season while Andrea Cavinato has made wholesale changes to the pack with Salvatore Perugini, Luca Redolfini, Manici, Filippo Ferrarini and Andries van Schalkwyk all making the starting XV.
Winger Andrew Conway will make his Munster bow on the right wing while Donnacha Ryan makes his first start of the season in the pack alongside Damien Varley who returns to captain the Irishmen.
Munster, who prevailed 27-25 on their only previous visit to the Stadio XXV Aprile last term, will have the chance to go top of the standings for 24 hours with Leinster not in action until Saturday.
Cardiff Blues will be hoping to register their first victory of the season when they host Connacht at Arms Park on Friday.
The Blues failed to make the ideal start to the new campaign as they lost 22-15 to Glasgow on the opening weekend, but Cardiff did pick up a bonus point for ending within seven points of their opponents.
It was a more positive start for Connacht as Nathan White, Matt Healy and returning winger Fionn Carr all crossed the line as they beat Zebre 25-16.
British and Irish Lions star Alex Cuthbert is drafted into the Cardiff starting line-up for the first time this season as one of three changes to their side. Dafydd Hewitt assumes the inside centre berth while Wales international forward Andries Pretorius joins the flanks as he makes a milestone 50th Blues start.
Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made two changes to his squad ahead of the round two clash. Gavin Duffy returns to the fray in the number 15 jersey, meaning Robbie Henshaw moves to outside centre; while Tiernan O'Halloran gets the nod on the right wing as Danie Poolman drops to the bench.
The Blues have not lost their first two fixtures of the season since 2009 and the Irishmen have won just three of the previous 20 encounters between the sides.
Elsewhere on Friday, Glasgow will be looking for back-to-back wins when they travel to Ireland to face last season's runners-up Ulster.
Ulster were only able to manage a losing bonus point in their opening fixtures against the Dragons, meaning Mark Anscombe's side have lost their last two Pro12 outings.
It was a winning start for Glasgow on the other hand, as Tommy Seymour's late try sealed a 22-15 victory over Cardiff Blues at the Scotstoun Stadium.
The hosts make seven changes to the side which lost on the opening day of the season. An injury to Ireland international winger Andrew Trimble means David McIlwaine will make his first start of the season alongside Darren Cave, Michael Allen, Ian Porter, Declan Fitzpatrick, Sean Doyle and Nick Williams who are all called upon by Anscombe.
Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend has been boosted by the return of Stuart Hogg after his successful Lions summer. The 21-year-old will start at full-back as one of four changes which see Ryan Grant, DTH van der Merwe and Josh Strauss all make welcome returns.
The Ulstermen will look to make a fortress of Ravenhill once again this term having lost only one game at home last season; while Glasgow will look to end the Scottish drought in Belfast by becoming the first side to prevail since 2009.
Edinburgh remain in search of their first win as they take on Newport Gwent Dragons after suffering round one defeat at the hands of Munster.
Alan Solomons' men were left behind as the Irishmen raced in five tries on their way to securing a 24-23 bonus point victory at Musgrave Park.
Outside centre Jason Tovey starred for the Dragons, kicking all the points, in their opening 15-8 victory over Ulster last Friday.
Edinburgh winger Nikki Walker comes into the starting XV to make his debut alongside Tim Visser, who makes his first start of the campaign. Fly-half Harry Leonard replaces the injured Piers Francis while the only switch in the pack sees Georgian international Dimitri Basilaia come in for Sean Cox.
For the Dragons, Matthew Pewtner step into the wing with Tom Prydie sustaining an ankle injury last time out. Up front, Owen Evans comes in at loosehead prop with newcomer Matthew Screech and veteran Adam Jones in the second row; while Lewis Evans gets a start at blindside flanker as Fijian international Netani Talei takes the number eight berth.
The men from Gwent have won six of the previous eight clashes between the sides but the record in the last six Murrayfield meetings remains even.