The in-form David Wallace also returns at openside flanker, joining Donnacha Ryan and James Coughlan in a combative back row.
Ryan will start at blindside flanker and Academy member Conor Murray has notably held off Peter Stringer to retain the number 9 jersey.
It will be the 21-year-old Murray's third senior start in recent weeks, and the Garryowen clubman will have the vastly-experienced Ronan O'Gara outside him.
Felix Jones has been preferred at full-back to Paul Warwick, who has been named on the replacements bench. It will be the 23-year-old Jones' first senior match against his native province.
Munster currently hold a 12-point lead at the top of the Magners League and skipper O'Connell, mindful of Leinster's five in-a-row over Munster, is eager to keep his side on track for the play-offs.
"It will be very disappointing if we don't beat them. Six times in-a-row would be tough for everyone to take, supporters, staff and players," he said.
"We'll be going out and giving it everything on Saturday. Since the Toulon game (in January) we've improved. We're a lot happier with how we're playing and what we're doing.
"It's just another game, that's the way we're trying to keep our preparation...trying to keep it to another game, and come the day there will be plenty of spice."
MUNSTER (v Leinster): Felix Jones; Doug Howlett, Johne Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Keith Earls; Ronan O'Gara, Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell (capt), Donnacha Ryan, David Wallace, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Mick O'Driscoll, Denis Leamy, Peter Stringer, Paul Warwick, Sam Tuitupou.