Brian O'Driscoll and Shane Horgan back for Leinster. John Kelly and David Wallace returning for Munster. A Celtic League record attendance. Saturday at the RDS is shaping up to be some day.
CELTIC LEAGUE: Saturday, December 31
LEINSTER v MUNSTER, The RDS, 1.00pm (live Setanta Sports)
Celtic League leaders Munster pay their first visit to the Royal Dublin Society grounds as they renew arguably the fiercest of provincial rivalries with hosts Leinster.
Both sides are near full strength for a mouth-watering clash that should bring 2005 to a fitting close for an expected capacity crowd of 13,500. Ticket sales are currently hovering around the 13,000 mark meaning the Celtic League record attendance of 12,436, which was set last Tuesday for the Cardiff Blues v Newport-Gwent Dragons tie at the Arms Park, should fall.
Leinster look in good stead to record their fourth win in five outings in league and Heineken Cup competition. Ireland and Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll will make his first start of the season for the province, having showed no ill-affects of his dislocated shoulder injury during last Monday's 24-19 defeat of Ulster at Ravenhill.
O'Driscoll put in a 30-minute cameo as a replacement in Belfast for his first on-the-field involvement since his Lions tour was abruptly ended just 45 seconds into the first Test against New Zealand on June 25.
In all, Leinster coach Michael Cheika has made three changes to his side. O'Driscoll and his Ireland colleague Shane Horgan, who picked up a bruised hip injury during Ireland's training camp in Lanzarote last week, both return in the backs, replacing Brendan Burke and Rob Kearney indirectly. O'Driscoll will partner Gordon D'Arcy in midfield.
Reggie Corrigan, who had been battling the flu, takes Ronan McCormack's place at loosehead prop. Interestingly, Denis Hickie has also been named on the hosts' replacements bench. The Ireland winger has been sidelined since dislocating his right fibula in October.
Munster, who are bidding to do the double against Leinster - they overwhelmed the men in blue at Musgrave Park in October, outscoring them by five tries to none in a 33-9 success, will show eight changes to the side that beat Connacht 36-17 in Limerick on Tuesday night.
Most notably, John Kelly replaces Anthon Pitout on the right wing and David Wallace, who suffered a back strain in Lanzarote, returns at the expense of Donncha O'Callaghan, who took on a flanker's role against Connacht.
O'Callaghan is doubly unfortunate as Mick O'Driscoll's good form has seen the former Perpignan forward earn the second row berth beside Paul O'Connell. The latter ended his three month absence from rugby - due to a hand injury - on Tuesday.
The other alterations made by Munster coach Declan Kidney see Jeremy Manning and Tomas O'Leary make way for Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer at half-back. In the front row, Marcus Horan, who is bidding to become only the second player in Celtic League history to score four tries in successive games against the same opponent (Tommy Bowe (v Connacht) being the first), starts at loosehead prop, Federico Pucciariello switches to tighthead at the expense of John Hayes and Jerry Flannery reclaims the hooker berth from Denis Fogarty.
Talisman and captain Anthony Foley comes back in for Stephen Keogh at number eight.
In acknowledging Leinster's recent patch of form, Munster have also won three of their last four games in all competitions. History is also on their side - Leinster have won just one of their past seven meetings with Munster since 2001 - that being a 17-15 triumph at Donnybrook in the Celtic League in September 2004.
**A minute's silence will be observed before the game as a mark of respect for Leinster great Des O'Brien and Mrs. Eileen Kidney who both passed away during the week**
Leinster: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Kieran Lewis; Felipe Contepomi, Guy Easterby; Reggie Corrigan, Brian Blaney, Will Green, Malcolm O'Kelly, Bryce Williams, Cameron Jowitt, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Ronan McCormack, David Blaney, Adam Byrnes, Eric Miller, Brian O'Riordan, Jonny Hepworth, Denis Hickie.
Munster: Shaun Payne; John Kelly, Barry Murphy, Gary Connolly, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, Federico Pucciariello, Mick O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Anthony Foley (capt).
Replacements: John Hayes, Denis Fogarty, Trevor Hogan, Donncha O'Callaghan, Mike Prendergast, Jeremy Manning, Trevor Halstead.
Referee: Alistair McKay (IRFU); Touch Judges: Simon McDowell, Marshall Kilgore (both IRFU)