Mack Hansen returns from injury for Irish derby

Date published: December 31 2021 - Planet Rugby

The United Rugby Championship continues on Saturday and Sunday as two matches take place, with Connacht facing Munster and Scarlets hosting Ospreys.

Connacht v Munster

Connacht have made two changes from the club’s last outing against Leicester Tigers two weeks ago, with URC top try-scorer Mack Hansen making a welcome return from injury to start on the wing for the first time in a month.

The other change is in the second-row where Oisín Dowling comes into the starting side.

The rest of the starting XV is unchanged, meaning Hansen forms a back three with winger John Porch and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran, while internationals Kieran Marmion, captain Jack Carty, Bundee Aki and Sammy Arnold make up the half-back and centre pairings respectively.

The front-row is again made up of Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, and Ultan Dillane partners Dowling in the second-row. Flankers Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver and number eight Jarrad Butler make up the rest of the starting team.

Included on the bench is academy scrum-half Matthew Devine, with the Ballinasloe RFC man named in a matchday squad for the first time.

For Munster, Jack O’Donoghue captains the side with seven changes to the team that defeated Castres in the Champions Cup last time out.

20-year-old academy back-row forward Alex Kendellen makes his first Munster start on his fourth appearance for the province following his Champions Cup debut against Castres.

Stephen Archer, Gavin Coombes, Shane Daly, Mike Haley and Fineen Wycherley all start on their first appearances since October with Craig Casey and Kendellen also coming into the starting XV.

Haley is named at full-back with Andrew Conway and Daly on either flank.

Damian de Allende and Chris Farrell continue their centre partnership with Casey and Ben Healy in the half-backs.

Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and Archer pack down in the front-row with Jean Kleyn and Wycherley in the engine room.

The back-row combination of O’Donoghue, Kendellen and Coombes completes the starting XV.

Included among the replacements, Rory Scannell is in line to make his 150th appearance for the province.

Prediction: Munster by 4

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Jack Carty (c), 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Oisín Dowling, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Matthew Burke
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Tietie Tuimauga, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Eoghan Masterson, 20 Abraham Papali’i, 21 Matthew Devine, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Tom Farrell

Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Alex Kendellen, 6 Jack O’Donoghue (c), 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Thomas Ahern, 20 Jack Daly, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Rory Scannell

Venue: The Sportsground
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)

Scarlets v Ospreys

Scott Williams will lead the Scarlets into the New Year’s Day derby against the Ospreys.

Williams skippers a side showing three changes from the starting XV originally selected to take on Cardiff on Boxing Day.

Behind the scrum, Liam Williams, Johnny McNicholl and Steff Evans make up a pacy back three combination; Steff Hughes links up with Scott Williams in midfield, while Dan Jones and Gareth Davies combine at half-back.

21-year-old Harri O’Connor, who was set to make his URC debut from the bench against Cardiff, has been handed a start against the Ospreys and packs down alongside Wales internationals Rob Evans and Ryan Elias in the front-row.

Sam Lousi partners Tom Price at lock, while Blade Thomson, Sione Kalamafoni and Josh Macleod are again named in the back-row.

There are a number of changes among the replacements. WillGriff John has recovered from an ankle issue, Daf Hughes and Steff Thomas are brought in as front-row cover, while Tom Rogers returns to the matchday 23. Argentina international Tomas Lezana will make his Parc y Scarlets debut if he appears from the bench.

Meanwhile, Keelan Giles returns to the starting Ospreys line-up for the first time since April 2021, joining Luke Morgan and Dan Evans in the back three.

Owen Watkin and Michael Collins form the centre partnership with Josh Thomas holding the keys to the number 10 shirt alongside Rhys Webb as scrum half and captain.

Matthew Aubrey, Joe Hawkins and Keiran Williams provide the cover off the bench.

Up front, Nicky Smith, Elvis Taione and Tomas Francis form the front-row with Will Griffiths and Adam Beard in the second.

Ethan Roots, Jac Morgan and Morgan Morris complete the starting pack.

Dewi Lake also makes his return and named on the bench alongside fellow front-row cover Gareth Thomas and Tom Botha. Sam Cross and Lloyd Ashley complete the matchday 23.

Prediction: Scarlets by 6

The teams:

Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Steff Hughes, 12 Scott Williams (c), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Tom Price, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Harri O’Connor, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Daf Hughes, 17 Steff Thomas, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Tom Rogers

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Luke Morgan, 10 Josh Thomas, 9 Rhys Webb (c) 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Jac Morgan, 6 Ethan Roots, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Griffiths, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Joe Hawkins, 23 Keiran Williams

Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Breakspear (Wales), Rhys Jones (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)