Preview: Munster v Connacht

Date published: March 22 2013

Ireland lock Paul O'Connell has been included in Munster's starting XV for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at Musgrave Park.

Ireland lock Paul O'Connell has been included in Munster's starting XV for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at Musgrave Park.

O'Connell returns to senior action for the first time since October after recovering from a back injury.

Munster boss Rob Penney has made just three changes from the side that drew with Ospreys, all those up front and more specifically in the back five.

Not surprisingly O'Connell's return forces Billy Holland to the bench and just as unsurprisingly Donncha O'Callaghan gets to partner him while in the backrow Sean Dougall returns to the starting line-up for the first time since the January 9 encounter with Edinburgh.

The back-line remains the same as does the front row while Niall Ronan is included in the matchday squad for the first time since November.

Short of just five front line players, Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O'Mahony and the injured pair of Keith Earls and Luke O'Dea, it's a selection that gives due cognisance to the challenge faced on Saturday and the importance of the game.

There's only one play off place within Munster's reach and they vie for that fourth spot with Ospreys and Scarlets so all eyes will be on the Stadio XXV Aprile and Liberty Stadium tomorrow night when Scarlets play Zebre and Ospreys take on Dragons.

But while those games will give Munster a clearer understanding where they stand, before a ball is kicked this weekend, they know exactly what's required from them in Musgrave Park on Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, Connacht boss Eric Elwood has made just two personnel changes to the team that beat Zebre in the last round of the competition.

In the back-line, Dave McSharry returns to the starting line-up for the first time since the January 18 Heineken Cup encounter with Zebre. He partners Eoin Griffin in the centre.

Dan Parks, who has kicked 100 league points this season, is named in a halfback pairing with Connacht Academy graduate Kieran Marmion.

Robbie Henshaw starts at full-back in a back three with skipper Gavin Duffy and this season's leading try scorer Danie Poolman.

Up front, George Naoupu comes into the fray this week, joining Mick Kearney in the second row. Naoupu replaces Andrew Browne who moves to Blindside Flanker, while John Muldoon starts at Number 8.

Ireland international Mike McCarthy is named in the match day squad and is set to earn his 150th cap for Connacht should he be called upon tomorrow evening in Cork.

Form: Munster are without a win in their last three PRO12 fixtures since beating Edinburgh 30-3 in Cork on 9 February. That victory ended an unwanted run of two successive defeats at Musgrave Park to Scarlets and Cardiff Blues. The Munstermen have not welcomed a fellow Irish province to Musgrave Park since Ulster were the visitors in March 2008 and were repelled 42-6. Connacht have won four of their last five PRO12 games including victories in their last three matches against Ospreys, Blues and Zebre. Connacht have only once before won four in a row in the tournament – in September 2002. Connacht's only away win in the competition against a fellow Irish province came when they visited Donnybrook in September 2002 and beat Leinster 26-23. Munster's only previous defeat to Connacht in this tournament was 6-12 at the Sportsground on 28 December 2008. Connacht have not won on Munster soil since a trip to Thomond Park in the Interprovincial Championship in November 1986.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Felix Jones; 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Doug Hurley; 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Cathal Sheridan, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Tommy O'Donnell, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Damien Varley, 1 David Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Niall Ronan, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Ivan Dineen.

Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Gavin Duffy (c), 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 George Naoupu, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Fetu'u Vainikolo.

Date: Saturday, March 23
Venue: Musgrave Park
Kick-off: 17.45 local
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRFU)