Preview: Munster v Maori All Blacks

Date published: November 10 2016

Thomond Park will be sold-out for what should be an entertaining and passionate clash between Munster and the Maori All Blacks on Friday.

25,600 supporters will be there to witness the special fixture, which is the third sell-out in as many home matches for an in-form Munster.

Both sides arrive in impressive form as Munster nilled the Ospreys last week while the Maori All Blacks dominated the USA in Chicago.

Since the tragic passing of Anthony Foley, Munster and Ireland has come together on and off the field with fitting tributes to the inspirational ex captain of the province. Perhaps the greatest performances of those came at Soldier Field though where Ireland stunned New Zealand 40-29.

Munster will look to continue their run of strong form but it won’t be an easy task against a Maori All Blacks line-up full of star quality.

Colin Cooper has made seven changes to his starting XV as Reed Prinsep, Billy Guyton and Ambrose Curtis make their debut. Meanwhile, Leni Apisai and Whetu Douglas will also enjoy a first outing when they come off the replacements bench, with Cooper looking forward to the game.

“This match is a huge game. I think every player at some stage in their career would like to play Munster in Limerick. We certainly saw the passion of the people here and the stadium being sold out, Ireland beating the All Blacks at the weekend – it’s got everyone pretty hummed so it will be a mighty contest,” he told the media before admitting that the Thomond Park fans will be like an extra opponent this Friday.

“The crowd is like an extra, the 24th person. They are very vocal and very passionate so it will be a challenge for us,” added the coach.

“I’ve always admired Munster from afar. The people here are pretty passionate, and certainly people here know New Zealand and they know these players – they are very respectful people.

“This game is going to be special. I’ve always admired Munster from afar and now I’m going to be at the coalface of taking on Munster, it will be a great experience and opportunity to lead such good men like we’ve got in this group.”

Munster meanwhile name Tommy O’Donnell as captain for the first time, as director of rugby Rassie Erasmus makes four changes to his side.

Three players are in line to make their Munster debuts. Short-term signing Te Aihe Toma is included on the bench as are the academy’s Sean O’Connor and John Foley. O’Connor was part of the Ireland side that defeated New Zealand at this year’s World Rugby U20 Championship.

Conor Oliver, Brian Scott and Dan Goggin are also included in the matchday squad completing a strong academy representation of five players.

Three changes are seen in the pack. James Cronin comes back into the front-row with John Madigan making his first start of the season in the second-row. Oliver returns with captain O’Donnell and Robin Copeland making positional switches to form a new look back-row. O’Donnell starts at blindside for the first time since February 2014.

The last change comes at fly-half where Ian Keatley comes in to partner Duncan Williams, with his personal battle with Otere Black one of several intriguing personal match-ups on what should be another special night in Limerick.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Tommy O’Donnell (c), 5 Darren O’Shea, 4 John Madigan, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Brian Scott, 19 Sean O’Connor, 20 John Foley, 21 Te Aihe Toma, 22 Dan Goggin, 23 Alex Wootton

Maori All Blacks: 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 Ambrose Curtis, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 James Lowe, 10 Otere Black, 9 Billy Guyton, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Leighton Price, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Whetu Douglas, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Jason Emery

Date: Friday, November 11
Venue: Thomond Park
Kick-off: 19:30 GMT
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Leo Colgan (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)