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Preview: Connacht v Munster

23rd March 2012 10:41

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Lifeimi Mafi munster v Scarlets

Perpignan-bound: Lifeimi Mafi

Connacht have recalled lock Mike McCarthy and prop Brett Wilkinson from recent Six Nations duty and have three more faces back for their RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Munster.

John Muldoon, Kyle Tonetti and Henry Fa'afili also return to a side that sees Ronan Loughney move back to tighthead prop where he has excelled this season and is joined in the front-row by hooker Ethienne Reynecke and Wilkinson. McCarthy and Swift renew their lock partnership

Frank Murphy and Miah Nikora continue their half-back pairing with Fa'afili and Eoin Griffin making up the centres. The back-three is Tiernan O'Halloran, Kyle Tonetti and Gavin Duffy.

The bench sees sub-Academy prop Finlay Bealham making the match-day squad for the first time alongside the return to fitness of Rodney Ah You and both will look to make a big impression from the bench.

The match looks set to break a new record for the highest attendance of a league game for Connacht. The previous record was broken on New Year's Day when over 6,500 fans packed out the Sportsground for the visit of Leinster and ticket sales for the Munster match have exceeded that already setting up another titanic inter-provincial clash.

Meanwhile, Munster have made eight changes to their starting line-up for the trip to Galway.

Five of those changes come in the pack where there's a return to action for Damien Varley and James Coughlan, neither of whom played against Aironi while in the backline London Irish-bound Tomas O'Leary partners Ian Keatley at half-back and Johne Murphy is paired with Perpignan destined Lifeimi Mafi.

Luke O'Dea, who was added to the Heineken Cup squad yesterday, is listed among the replacements. The Shannon wing marked his debut at senior level with a try against Edinburgh in November and followed up with tries against Ulster and the Dragons. He will take up a Development contract next season.

Mafi's move to Perpignan was officially confirmed on Wednesday and coach Tony McGahan was fulsome in his praise of the 29-year-old Tongan.

"He has been an outstanding contributor to the Munster set up. A thorough professional on and off the field and an extremely popular squad member with both players and management." he said.

"He has played an integral part in the success Munster have enjoyed in League and Heineken Cup since joining in 2006 and I believe that when it comes to discuss the greats who have worn the Munster jersey, Lifeimi will be right up there among them."

Form: Connacht have beaten Munster just once in their last 36 meetings: 12-6 in Galway on 28 December 2008, whilst their most recent win on Munster soil was 11-9 at Thomond Park on 22 November 1986. Munster's 17-21 loss to Aironi in Viadana last time out ended a six game winning run in all competitions. Munster's only home defeat since April 2011 was 13-17 to Ospreys at Thomond Park on 8 October. Connacht's solo victory in the RaboDirect PRO12 since September was 26-13 at home to Edinburgh on 24 February. Connacht have not won away from home since their trip to Treviso on 3 September. Connacht have beaten just one fellow Irish province since December 2008: 27-13 at home to Leinster on 21 April 2010.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy (capt), 14 Kyle Tonetti, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Henry Fa'afili, 11 Tiernan O'Halloran, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Ray Ofisa, 6 Mick Kearney, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Ethienne Reynecke, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Eoin McKeon, 20 Eoghan Grace, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Dave McSharry.

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Denis Hurley, 13 Johne Murphy, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 James Coughlan, 7 David Wallace, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Mick O'Driscoll (capt), 4 Ian Nagle, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Scott Deasy, 23 Luke O'Dea.

Date: Saturday, March 24
Kick-off: 19:45
Venue: The Sportsground
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Assistant referees: Paul Haycock, Michael Black (both IRFU)
Citing commissioner: Denis Templeton (IRFU)
TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)

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2Gloucester614
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4Perpignan67