Preview: Connacht v Munster

Date published: December 30 2016

Pat Lam has made four changes to his Connacht team to face Munster at the Sportsground on New Year's Eve.

Peter Robb returns from injury to start in the centre with fellow Academy graduate Rory Parata in an otherwise unchanged backline.

Up front, Tom McCartney is reintroduced at hooker and is named to captain the side in the absence of John Muldoon through injury. Naulia Dawai will make his first start for Connacht at number eight. Nepia Fox-Matamua shifts to blindside flanker to accommodate the returning Jake Heenan who starts at openside, having missed the last two games.

On the bench, Belfast-born prop John Andress is named as a replacement having agreed a short term contract with Connacht to act as cover for current front-row injuries.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Lam said: "With over half of our senior squad unavailable through injury and more players going down this week either with injury or sickness, it’s been another incredibly challenging week.

"We know it’s going to be very tough against Munster but despite the setbacks we have confidence in the players left standing. Being back at home in a sold out Sportsground for the last game of 2016 also helps the situation we are in.  We have a lot of respect for top-of-the-table side Munster and what they are achieving this season. They are without a doubt the form team of the PRO12 championship. It’s going to take a massive team effort against them tomorrow but we’re looking forward to the significant challenge in front of us."

Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has made sweeping changes to his side for the PRO12 clash against reigning champions. 

There are 11 changes to the team that defeated Leinster on Monday in Thomond Park, one of which sees Francis Saili make his first start of the season.

This season's leading try scorer Ronan O'Mahony is the only back retained by Erasmus, starting on the left wing, while Keith Earls returns to start on the opposite flank. Academy player Dan Goggin makes his fourth start of the campaign and joins Saili in forming a new centre partnership, while Duncan Williams and Ian Keatley are this week's half-back pairing.

Although managing an elbow issue this week and initially deemed unavailable, Andrew Conway's injury was not as bad as first feared and the fullback has been declared fit to start.

With five changes to the forwards, Rhys Marshall and Stephen Archer are introduced to the front row, joining James Cronin. Dave Foley packs down next to Jean Kleyn in the engine room, while Billy Holland and Jack O'Donoghue are promoted to start alongside Tommy O'Donnell in the back-row. 

In the absence of Peter O'Mahony, Holland will captain the side. After successfully rehabbing an elbow injury, in the replacements, hooker Kevin O'Byrne makes his return to a match-day squad for the first time since the opening game again Scarlets. 

Form: Connacht Rugby’s last eight matches in the PRO12 have all gone in favour of the home side. Connacht have won their last six matches at The Sportsground in all tournaments since Ospreys were victorious there in round 2 of the PRO12. Munster’s solitary defeat in the last nine rounds of the PRO12 was 14-25 to Leinster at Aviva Stadium on 8 October. The Munstermen have the second-best away record in the PRO12 this season with a won four lost one record on their travels despite the fact that they have scored nine tries and conceded nine in those games. Connacht achieved a season’s double over Munster for the first time ever last year and have won three of their last four contests against their southern neighbours. Munster have been defeated on their last two visits to the Sportsground.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Rory Parata, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Naulia Dawai, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 John Andress, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Danny Qualter, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Ciaran Gaffney, 23 Rory Moloney

Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Ronan O'Mahony, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Billy Holland (c), 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Jack O'Donoghue, 5 Dave Foley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin
Replacements: 16 Dave Kilcoyne, 17 Kevin O'Byrne, 18 Thomas Du Toit, 19 Robin Copeland, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Te Aihe Toma, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Jaco Taute

Date: Saturday, December 31 
Venue: The Sportsground
Time: 17:30 local
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Mark Patton (both IRFU)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)