Preview: Munster v Ulster

Date published: May 4 2012

Tony McGahan has made three changes from the Munster side that started last weekend for his final Thomond Park game, against Ulster.

Munster coach Tony McGahan has made three changes from the side that started last weekend for his final Thomond Park game, against Ulster.

One of those changes is positional with Johne Murphy switching to the right wing to allow Ivan Dineen partner Lifeimi Mafi while the other change is in the front-row where Wian du Preez replaces Dave Kilcoyne.

It will also be a last Thomond Park appearance for Lifeimi Mafi and for Tomas O'Leary both of whom depart these shores at season's end for pastures new.

The prize for a Munster win is a trip to Liberty Stadium a week from now for a semi final joust with the Ospreys.

Meanwhile, Brian McLaughlin has made ten changes to the Ulster XV for the RaboDirect PRO12 clash, with Iain Henderson making his first senior start.

Ireland U20 star Iain Henderson will make his first senior start when he lines out at blindside flanker. The 20-year-old made an impressive appearance as a second-row replacement against Connacht last month. Phoenix Academy player Chris Cochrane has also been given a chance to impress after being handed a starting berth on the left wing.

With Ulster having only an outside chance of qualifying for the PRO12 play-offs, and with a Heineken Cup final on the horizon, McLaughlin has decided to rest a raft of players. Captain Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, Rory Best and Stevie Ferris are among those getting a well-earned weekend off.

Andrew Trimble, Paddy Jackson, Declan Fitzpatrick, Dan Tuohy and Willie Faloon are the only players who remain in the starting line-up. In the backs, Paul Marshall combines with Jackson at half back, Ian Whitten and Nevin Spence come in to form a centre partnership and Adam D'Arcy lines out at full-back. Trimble and Cochrane will look to capitalise on chances from the wings.

Up front, Nigel Brady will captain the side from hooker, where he is joined by Fitzpatrick and Paddy McAllister. Lewis Stevenson replaces Muller at lock alongside Tuohy, while Henderson and Faloon are joined by Robbie Diack in the back row.

Chris Henry (ankle), Andi Kyriacou (shoulder/neck) and Neil McComb (neck) have been ruled out by injuries. Annett is joined by Callum Black, Tom Court, Mike McComish and Ali Birch as forward cover. Blane McIlroy has been named as scrum-half replacement and the bench is completed by Ian Humphreys and Craig Gilroy.

“We are reliant on other results but we will approach the game trying to do our job and we will wait to hear other results coming through. Obviously the ideal outcome is to get a semi-final spot but we realise it's unlikely,” said a realistic McLaughlin.

“Iain had a great Six Nations campaign for Ireland U20s and it's exciting for us to be able to have a look at him and see how he does. Chris shone for us at the RDS (where he scored a try against Leinster) in December and we are looking forward to seeing him too. Andi Kyriacou's neck problem has given Niall Annett a chance to show what he can do, he's been very impressive for Belfast Harlequins this season, as has Blane for Ballymena. It will be great experience for them and very important for their development.”

Despite this, the Ulster coach is aware his side face a difficult evening.

“Munster are always tough opponents, particularly at home. But the Heineken Cup quarter-final win down there proved that we can do it. We set the bar very high that day and I expect the boys to go out and defend our reputation,” he said.

Form: Munster's only victory in their last four matches in all competitions was 35-29 at home to Glasgow on 14 April. Munster have lost their last two games at Thomond Park – an unprecedented sequence in the professional era. The Munstermen's record against fellow Irish provinces this season is won 2, lost 4. Heineken Cup finalists Ulster have slipped to back-to-back defeats in the RaboDirect PRO12 – to Connacht and Leinster., and will not want to make it an unwanted triple against all their Irish opponents. Ulster have already won at Thomond Park this season: 22-16 in the quarter-final of the European Cup and also beat the Munstermen 33-17 at Ravenhill in round 12 of the PRO12.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Ivan Dineen, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Mick O'Driscoll, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Paddy Butler, 21 Tomas O'Leary, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Keith Earls.

Ulster: 15 Adam D'Arcy, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Nevin Spence, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Chris Cochrane, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Nigel Brady (c), 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Callum Black, 18 Tom Court, 19 Mike McComish, 20 Ali Birch, 21 Blane McIlroy, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Craig Gilroy.

Date: Saturday, May 5
Kick-off: 19:30 BST
Venue: Thomond Park
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dudley Phillips (Ireland), David Connolly (Ireland)
Television match official: Alan Rogan (Ireland)