Preview: Munster v Connacht

Date published: November 27 2015

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Munster head coach Anthony Foley has made six changes to his starting XV for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at Thomond Park.

James Cronin will win his 50th Munster cap with Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino set to make his first start for the province.

Cronin is one of two changes in the front-row with Niall Scannell making his first PRO12 start of the season at hooker, while BJ Botha continues at tighthead.

Donnacha Ryan again partners Mark Chisholm in an unchanged second-row, while in the back-row, the return of Robin Copeland at number eight sees captain CJ Stander switch to six with Jack O'Donoghue remaining at seven.

Tomás O'Leary comes in to partner Ian Keatley in the half-backs and a positional change for Keith Earls sees him move into midfield alongside Francis Saili who switches to the inside channel.

The final two changes are seen in the back-three with PRO12 debutant Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino and the returning Gerhard van den Heever starting on the left and right wing respectively.

In completing the starting XV, Andrew Conway will make his fifth start at full-back this season.

Should he feature from the bench, Kevin O'Byrne will make his first PRO12 appearance of the current campaign.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made nine changes to his run-on side that started against Brive in the Challenge Cup last week.

USA international fly-half AJ MacGinty is named in the number 10 shirt for his first PRO12 start. The 25-year-old is joined at half-back by Ireland international Kieran Marmion, who this week signed a new two-year deal with the province.

Matt Healy returns from injury to take his place on the left wing while Galway man Tiernan O'Halloran is named on the right in a shift that sees Robbie Henshaw start at full-back for the second time this season.

Craig Ronaldson is promoted from the bench to line up in a midfield partnership with the only player to have started every game this season, Bundee Aki.

In the pack, only two players, Nathan White and Eoghan Masterson, are recalled from last week. Denis Buckley and Academy hooker Shane Delahunt make up the front-row with White while Ultan Dillane and Aly Muldowney start together in the second-row for the second time this season.

John Muldoon returns to captain the side in a back-row with Masterson at number eight and Academy flanker James Connolly who will make his PRO12 debut in Limerick, having made four European appearances to date.

Academy and former Ireland U20 back-row Sean O'Brien is named among the replacements. He made his Connacht debut in Russia earlier this month but tomorrow would represent a first PRO12 appearance for the 20-year-old from Galway.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Lam said: "Injuries withstanding, we've picked this team based on the weather expected tomorrow as well as the game plan we have in place to try and deal with Munster's strengths. 

"We have a long list of casualties but as I've said before, it's up to the next guy to come in and do the job and I'm really pleased with the way players, especially the younger guys, have stepped up so far this season.

"The amount of youth coming through in this side is exciting with 13 of our match day squad graduates or current members of the Connacht Academy.

"We are under no illusion as to the task at hand tomorrow. Axel (Anthony Foley) has done a great job moulding and building a tough and resilient Munster side over the last two years.

"Our team work and work ethic on and off the ball will need to be at its best to give us a chance to get the four points on offer."

Form: Munster’s only defeat in any tournament this season was 22-25 at Parc y Scarlets in Round Five of the PRO12 whilst the Munstermen have won their last 13 home games in the PRO12 at their two venues since Ospreys visited Thomond Park in September 2014. Connacht have also lost just once in any tournament this season: 32-33 at Glasgow in Round Two of the PRO12. Connacht have won their last five PRO12 fixtures equalling their best ever run in the tournament in 2002. Connacht’s 24-16 victory over Munster in Galway on New Year’s Day was their first victory over their neighbours since 2008, Connacht have not however beaten Munster at Thomond Park since 1986.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Tomás O'Leary, 8 Robin Copeland. 7 Jack O'Donoghue, 6 CJ Stander (c), 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O'Byrne, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Jordan Coghlan, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Denis Hurley.

Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9  Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 James Connolly, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Nathan White, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 George Naoupu, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Ian Porter, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Darragh Leader.

Date: Saturday, November 28
Venue: Thomond Park
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Jonathan Peak (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

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