Preview: Munster v Connacht

Date published: March 27 2015

Munster head coach Anthony Foley is without a handful of his Ireland contingent to face Connacht in a key clash at Thomond Park on Saturday.

He again names Denis Hurley as captain and in total, Foley makes seven personnel and positional changes to the side that lost to the Ospreys.

Two changes in the front-row see John Ryan and Stephen Archer come in to start on either side of Eusebio Guinazu with Donncha O'Callaghan and Billy Holland remaining in situ in the second-row.

The return of Tommy O'Donnell at openside is the only change in the back-row with Dave O'Callaghan and CJ Stander continuing at six and eight respectively.

Duncan Williams and Ian Keatley again team up in the half-backs, while Andrew Smith makes his first start since returning from injury, doing so outside captain Denis Hurley in the midfield.

The return of Smith sees Keith Earls move to the right wing with Simon Zebo returning to the opposite flank. Should Zebo score a try this weekend, he will equal Doug Howlett's league try record of 22 tries.

Felix Jones completes the back-three, reverting to full-back for this weekend's clash.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made four personnel changes in total from the team that played Cardiff Blues last time out with three of those changes in the backs.

Darragh Leader comes onto the right wing while his fellow Galway man Tiernan O’Halloran shifts to full-back. Scrum-half Kieran Marmion returns for a new half-back pairing with Jack Carty while Craig Ronaldson moves to outside centre.

Up front, Academy forward Eoghan Masterson is named at openside flanker for his fifth game this season, joining skipper John Muldoon and number eight George Naoupu in the back-row.  

Quinn Roux and Eoin McKeon return to take their place amongst the replacement forwards while backs Shane O'Leary and Conor Finn are also introduced to the matchday squad.

"We are fully aware that Munster at Thomond Park is a big challenge but we also have the self-belief that if we focus on our game plan and work as a team, we can go down there and perform," said Lam.

"It's no secret that we've been hit with injuries, especially in certain positions but what it has highlighted is the importance of team work within the squad. Younger guys like Eoghan (Masterson) can step up with ease to pick up the role and do their part for the team with confidence.

"Interpro games like this are always big occasions but, for us, there are four points up for grabs and rather than get too caught up in the emotion of a derby game, we want to channel everything into a performance. We're very much looking forward to it."

Form: Munster's four game unbeaten run in the Guinness PRO12 came to an end against Ospreys in Swansea in round 17. The Munstermen have won their last five home games in the tournament at their two venues since Ospreys beat them 19-14 at Thomond Park in September. Munster have lost just one home game against a fellow Irish Province since the start of last season: 17-19 to Ulster on 10th May. Connacht have obtained three away win in the Guinness PRO12 this season whilst the only time they have ever gained four victories on the road in the same season was a decade ago. All four of Connacht’s fixtures with fellow Irish provinces this season have been won by the home side on the day, whilst the one occasion that they have ever beaten such an opponent on their own soil in the tournament was against Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002. Connacht beat Munster 24-16 at the Sportsground in round 12 and have never achieved a season’s double over their rivals. Connacht have not been victorious in Munster since and 11-9 win at Thomond Park in 1986.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Denis Hurley (c), 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Dave O'Callaghan, 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 John Ryan.
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Paddy Butler, 20 Jack O'Donoghue, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Ronan O'Mahony.

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Danie Poolman, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 John Cooney, 22 Shane O'Leary, 23 Conor Finn.

Date: Saturday, March 28
Kick-off: 17:15
Venue: Thomond Park
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Jonathan Peak (Ireland)
Television match official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)