Preview: Munster v Leinster

Date published: December 24 2015

Munster head coach Anthony Foley has made four changes to his starting XV for Sunday's PRO12 clash with Leinster at Thomond Park.

After successfully completing his return to play protocols for concussion BJ Botha returns this week and starts next to Mike Sherry and James Cronin in the front row, while Donnacha Ryan is back in the second row after last week's late withdrawal due to illness, joining fellow Tipperary-lock Dave Foley.

The final change in the forwards sees Jack O'Donoghue introduced at openside flank with Robin Copeland and captain CJ Stander as they were.

There is only one change to the backline with Tyler Bleyendaal making his second start at 10, and the New Zealander joins Conor Murray in the halfbacks.

And the squad has been further boosted by the return of Tommy O'Donnell who is included in the replacements. 

After sustaining a traumatic injury in the form of a hip dislocation in Ireland's World Cup warm-up game against Wales in August Tommy O'Donnell makes an earlier than expected return to the match-day squad this weekend thanks to the efforts of Munster's medical and fitness staff, and the player's exceptional commitment to his rehabilitation programme.

There is only one change to the backline with Tyler Bleyendaal making his second start at 10, and the New Zealander joins Conor Murray in the halfbacks.

The midfield pairing of Denis Hurley and Francis Saili, and back three of Simon Zebo, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway all remain.

On the injury front Dave O'Callaghan met with the specialist yesterday for an adductor injury and it has been confirmed that the backrow will be side-lined for approximately six weeks.

Meanwhile, hooker Sean Cronin who will make his 100th appearance for Leinster against his home province.

The Limerick man made two appearances for Munster before moving to Connacht where he made 65 appearances before moving to Leinster and making his debut in October 2011 against Edinburgh. He has scored 15 tries in his 99 appearances to date for Leinster.

Elsewhere, Nick McCarthy is in line to make his first league appearance for Leinster having come off the bench for his full debut in last weekend's Champions Cup game against Toulon.

Zane Kirchner starts at full-back with Fergus McFadden recovering from a calf strain to take his place on the right wing and Isa Nacewa as captain from the left.

Luke Fitzgerald partners Garry Ringrose in the centre for the first time with Ringrose making only his second start in the 13 jersey. The young Academy centre was selected to play against the Scarlets in Round 7 but due to an early injury to Rob Keareny in that game he was moved out to the wing to accomodate Ben Te'o who came off the bench.

In the halfbacks, Ian Madigan starts at 10 with Eoin Reddan getting the nod at scrum-half. Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong start in the front row with Devin Toner and Tom Denton in the second row.

Finally in the back row Dominic Ryan starts at blind side flanker with Sean O'Brien making a welcome return from injury at open side. Jamie Heaslip packs down at number eight.

Form: Munster have lost their last two matches in the Guinness PRO12 since beating Edinburgh at Murrayfield on 7 November. The Munstermen’s home loss to Connacht in Round 8 ended a seven game winning run in the PRO12 at Thomond Park. Leinster lie in fourth spot in the PRO12 table, and in accumulating 27 league points from their first eight games have made their best ever start to a PRO12 campaign. Their only defeat in the last seven rounds came on a trip to Scarlets in October. The Leinstermen lost all three away games at fellow Irish provinces last season, for the first time since 2003/04. Munster achieved the season’s double over Leinster last year, something that has not occurred in the regular season since 2008/09. Leinster have not been victorious at Thomond Park since April 2013.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Denis Hurley, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, (c), 7 Jack O'Donoghue, 6 Robin Copeland, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Dave Foley, 3 BJ Botha; 2 Mike Sherry, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Tomás O'Leary, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino. 

Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Isa Nacewa (c) 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Tom Denton, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath. 
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Dave Kearney.

Date: Sunday, December 27
Venue: Thomond Park
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Ireland)