Preview: Munster v Scarlets

Date published: December 16 2011

Munster are boosted by the return of Keith Earls in one of three changes from last week, for Sunday's return fixture with the Scarlets.

Munster are boosted by the return of Keith Earls in one of three changes from the side that ran out last week, for Sunday's clash at Thomond Park.

He comes straight into the side as a replacement for Will Chambers, while Denis Leamy starts in place of the injured Peter O'Mahony (jaw) and Donncha O'Callaghan retains the number 4 shirt having come on in Llanelli as a 55th minute replacement for Donnacha Ryan who is listed among the replacements.

Earls injured a knee in the opening minute of the game against Leinster in Dublin on November 4 and did his first full training spin late last week before coming through two sessions this week with flying colours. There just remains for him to get through the Captain's Run unscathed and he'll line up alongside Lifeimi Mafi in the midfield.

There is little surprise that Leamy gets the number 6 shirt after an impressive showing in the second half last weekend when he came on for O'Mahony and Tommy O'Donnell fills the gap on the bench created by Leamy's promotion while Stephen Archer is preferred as tighthead prop cover for BJ Botha.

Conor Murray is looking forward to playing in front of a packed Thomond Park Stadium but he's not taking anything for granted.

“I love playing there, the atmosphere on days like this is brilliant. But as Tony (McGahan) said, this is just the second half. And the result will be decided by what happens between the touchlines,” he said.

“It's going to be every bit as close and tense as it was last weekend.”

Meanwhile, Nigel Davies has opted to put both his Scarlets star fly-half players on the field with Rhys Priestland moving to full-back and experienced European campaigner, Stephen Jones in the 10 jersey opposite Ronan O'Gara.

“This is a vital game for us as in Europe and we must get our best players on the field. The team knows that – Rhys is a key Scarlets no 10, he knows that, however in support of the best line-up and getting our strongest team on the park he will support his colleagues and will be a strong option for us at full-back,” he said.

Iestyn Thomas is not available for selection with illness, wing George North has failed to fully recover from his dead leg and did not pass Friday's late fitness test. Aaron Shingler is ruled out with a toe sprain.

And it's going to be a trio of Scarlets landmarks this weekend. Lou Reed is hoping that a victory at Munster will make it a perfect day as he celebrates his 100th appearance in a Scarlets shirt. Treorchy born lock aged 24, Reed signed for the Scarlets in March 2006 and has been a key figure for the Scarlets in recent seasons. He was part of the 45-man 2011 Wales' World Cup training squad.

Scottish wing Sean Lamont achieves his 50th appearance for the region this weekend and there's another half century for tighthead prop Rhys Thomas. Replacement centre and on the bench for Sunday's game, Scarlets vice-captain Gareth Maule will achieve his 50th appearance for the region if called to the field.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Munster: 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Niall Ronan, 6 Denis Leamy, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Tomas O'Leary, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Danny Barnes.

Scarlets: 15 Rhys Priestland, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jon Edwards, 6 Rob McCusker, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Phil John, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Kieran Murphy, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Gareth Maule, 23 Viliame Iongi.

Date: Sunday, December 18
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick
Kick-off: 12:45 GMT
Referee: Dave Pearson