Preview: Connacht v Munster

Date published: April 18 2014

Connacht boss Pat Lam has made seven personnel and two positional changes for Saturday's PRO12 clash with rivals Munster.

Connacht boss Pat Lam has made seven personnel and two positional changes for Saturday's PRO12 clash with rivals Munster.

Willie Faloon is named at openside flanker after recovering from a hamstring injury picked up late last week. This is the first game in seven months for the 27-year-old who joins Eoin McKeon and captain John Muldoon in the back-row.

Galway-born forwards Ronan Loughney and Andrew Browne are promoted from the bench and represent the only other changes to the pack.

There is also a reshuffle to the backline with scrum-half Kieran Marmion the only player to be lining out in the same position as last week. Last week's try scorer Darragh Leader has been named to start at full-back while Ireland international Robbie Henshaw shifts to outside centre to partner Eoin Griffin.

Wingers Matt Healy and Danie Poolman return to the starting line-up for tomorrow's game in place of Fionn Carr and Tiernan O'Halloran, who has been ruled out with a quad tear sustained in training mid-week.

Miah Nikora is handed the reins at fly-half and completes an all-Irish qualified starting team.

Also ruled out this week is substitute hooker Dave Heffernan. With three hookers unavailable due to injury, the coaching team has had to call on the services of 19-year-old sub-Academy hooker Jack Dinneen.

Another notable addition to the bench is flanker Conor Gilsenan. On loan to Connacht for the remainder of the season, 21-year-old Gilsenan lined out twice for the Eagles last month. If called upon, this will be his first PRO12 appearance.

“After a false start last week for Willie (Faloon), it's great to have him back this week at the Sportsground. Seven is such a specialised position, and one which we've had to patch up this season with both Willie and Jake (Heenan) out long-term,” said Lam.

“It was obviously a big blow losing both Tiernan (O'Halloran) and Dave (Heffernan) to injuries during the week. Tiernan has been showing great form in the last two months but unfortunately this quad muscle tear has ruled him out for the rest of our season. We also had to train all week without Fionn (Carr), who's struggling with a knee haematoma, so it's a complete reshuffle to the back three. But what a great opportunity this is for the returning Danie (Poolman) and Matt (Healy) who have been pushing the guys hard in training.

“It doesn't get any bigger than Munster at home. It's always a tough game for us no matter where we play them. It's been seven weeks since we've played at the Sportsground and with a huge crowd expected, it's certainly going to be a special night. We can feel the buzz in training, the buzz around town. Everyone is up for it.

“But we know this is a must-win game for Munster too. Like us, they'll be hurting after their loss last week and they'll want to lay down a marker ahead of their big game with Toulon. We expect a big backlash and we need to be able to deal with it.

“We were so disappointed we didn't make anything of the opportunities we created against Ulster last week. We need to be so clinical tomorrow especially against a side like Munster who don't give you many of those opportunities.”

Meanwhile, Munster head coach Rob Penney has rung the changes for Saturday's showdown. A much improved performance from last weekend is required if Munster are to achieve a crucial result, with the province needing a victory to keep their chances of knock-out qualification alive.

With four changes to the pack Paul O'Connell returns this week joining Donncha O'Callaghan in the second-row, while Dave Kilcoyne and Damien Varley start in the front-row with John Ryan making the positional switch to tight-head. Paddy Butler takes the place of James Coughlan in the back-row as Varley takes over the captaincy duties this week.

Duncan Williams teams up with Ian Keatley at half-back, while Denis Hurley, Johne Murphy and Andrew Conway all join James Downey and Gerhard van den Heever in the backline.

In the replacements Munster are bolstered by the addition of BJ Botha who limped off last weekend with a mild ankle injury, and following a week of rest and rehabilitation the prop is in line to make his 70th appearance for the province.

JJ Hanrahan who was ruled out earlier in the week met with the specialist and it was confirmed he sustained a moderate groin tear. The plan going forward is for Hanrahan to progress with rehab and continue to be monitored by the medical staff on a daily basis.

Form: Connacht have slipped to back-to-back defeats in the PRO12, both on the road, to Scarlets and to Ulster.

Connacht's only defeat at the Sportsground in any tournament since mid-December was 8-16 to Leinster in the PRO12 on 4th January.

Connacht have lost their last ten matches against Irish provinces but have not suffered a clean sweep of defeats to fellow Irishmen in the same season since 2007/08.

Munster's only win in their last four PRO12 matches was at home to Treviso in round 17.

The Munstermen have been defeated in their last two encounters with opponents from Ireland and have lost three in a row against the other provinces since January 2009.

Connacht's solo victory over Munster since 1986 was 12-6 in Galway in December 2008.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Ronan Loughney
Replacements: 16 Jack Dinneen, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Dan Parks, 23 Dave McSharry

Munster: 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Johne Murphy, 12 James Downey, 11 Andrew Conway, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Paddy Butler, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Damien Varley (c), 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Alan Cotter, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Gerry Hurley, 22 Conor Murray, 23 Ronan O'Mahony

Date: Saturday 19th April
Venue: Galway Sportsground
Kick-off: 1815 (local & BST)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Ita)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson, Mark Patton (both Ire)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ire)