Preview: Munster v Leinster

Date published: March 30 2012

Munster have made six changes to their side for their RaboDirect PRO12 meeting with rivals Leinster at Thomond Park on Saturday.

Munster have made six changes to their side for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Leinster at Thomond Park.

Not surprisingly, four of the changes are caused by the return of internationals Keith Earls, Donncha O'Callaghan, Peter O'Mahony and Ronan O'Gara who captains the side in the absence of Paul O'Connell.

The other two changes sees Marcus Horan preferred at loosehead to Wian du Preez while the sixth change is positional with Johne Murphy moving from the outside centre berth he operated from in Galway, to the right wing.

Horan came on as a 54th minute replacement for Du Preez at the Sportsground and on the basis of his impressive 26-plus minute shift retains the number one shirt a week before the Heineken Cup quarter final.

Mick O'Driscoll and O'Callaghan partner up for just the third time this season, O'Callaghan playing in his 101st league game while winning his 198th Munster cap and he readily admits this is one of the games that sets his pulses racing.

“Absolutely. These are the games that everyone wants to be involved in.” he said.

“They're what make the dark and dirty nights of winter training so worthwhile.

“And they're great occasions. There's always that bit of a bigger buzz ahead of the Leinster game.

“It'll be a massive game for us,” he continued. “They're the form side, a real good side and they'll have all their big boys back so we'll really have to produce something special if we're to get anything out of this,” added O'Callaghan.

News of injured trio O'Connell, Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray is positive.

Ryan took a limited part in training yesterday while O'Connell and Murray travelled to Dublin to see a specialist who cleared them for training next week.

Ryan would look to be on track for inclusion in the squad for the Ulster game while O'Connell and Murray's participation will depend on how they come through training.

Meanwhile, Gordon D'Arcy will become only the second Leinster player in history (behind Shane Horgan) to reach the 200 cap landmark when he runs out on Saturday.

32-year-old D'Arcy made his provincial debut away to Edinburgh in September 1998 and to date he has scored 306 points in Leinster colours (55 tries, 5 penalties, 4 drop goals, 2 conversions) over 14 seasons.

He will link up at centre with Brian O'Driscoll, who successfully came through his first appearance of the season against the Ospreys last weekend.

Luke Fitzgerald becomes the province's 18th player to reach the 100-cap mark and he forms a back-three alongside Isa Nacewa (who makes his 96th appearance) and the returning Rob Kearney, with Eoin Reddan partnering Jonathan Sexton at half-back.

Number eight Jamie Heaslip captain's the team and he forms an all-Irish back-row alongside Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin.

Brad Thorn locks down alongside Devin Toner while up front Heinke van der Merwe is named in the front row alongside Sean Cronin and Mike Ross.

Leo Cullen, Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien are named amongst the replacements.

Form: The Munstermen's only home defeat in the PRO12 since April 2010 was 13-17 to Ospreys on 8 October 2011. Leinster's amazing unbeaten run ended at the hands of Ospreys on Friday, although the Leinstermen have still not lost away from home since round one. Leinster have won all four games they have played against fellow Irish provinces this season. Leinster have won just once at Thomond Park since 1995: 16-15 on 2 April 2010.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O'Gara (c), 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Peter O'Mahony, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Mick O'Driscoll, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Tom O'Donnell, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Danny Barnes.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Isa Nacewa, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Leo Cullen, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Date: Saturday, 31 March
Venue: Thomond Park
Kick-off: 19:30 BST
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)