Coughlan's inclusion at number 8 means David Wallace moves back to the openside flanker position, while Keith Earls' recovery from a groin injury leaves the back-line showing just one change from the one that faced Northampton back in January.
Earls renews his centre partnership with South African international Jean de Villiers, with Lifeimi Mafi dropping to the replacements bench.
Further good news for Munster is that their other groin injury sufferer, Paul O'Connell, has also been included in the side.
The province's captain and Earls trained in Cork on Thursday and both players are expected to take part in the Captain's Run training session on Friday evening.
MUNSTER (v Northampton Saints): Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Jean de Villiers, Ian Dowling; Ronan O'Gara, Tomas O'Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Damien Varley, Julien Brugnaut, Tony Buckley, Mick O'Driscoll, Nick Williams, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Lifeimi Mafi.