Donncha O'Callaghan is listed among the replacements alongside Tomas O'Leary who is also set for his first involvement with the senior team this season, having had a runout with the 'A' side in Galway last Friday.
Australian recruit Will Chambers will make his debut for the province at outside centre which means a switch to the number 12 role for Danny Barnes.
The return of O'Connell naturally sees him take over as captain although Peter O'Mahony, who assumed the captaincy in O'Connell's absence, retains his place in the starting line-up.
Five players - Johne Murphy, Doug Howlett, Barnes, Wian du Preez and O'Mahony - remain from the side that started the recent home defeat to the Ospreys, while returning number 8 James Coughlan missed that game through injury.
The selection reflects a certain urgency to get the Rugby World Cup players back into action as head coach Tony McGahan explained that Munster 'need to hit the ground running'.
"I think you'll have seen South African, English and other countries' players come back and play as soon as they were out of the quarter-finals," said McGahan.
"The Irish players had two weeks' rest. We're already at least a week-and-a-bit behind so we need to look at all the possibilities and people who are going to be best for us short term and long term in this four-week block that we have."
Munster have a number of frontline players on their injury list at present - David Wallace, Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery along with Ian Keatley, who is their top scorer to date in the RaboDirect PRO12.
MUNSTER (v Aironi Rugby): Johne Murphy; Doug Howlett, Will Chambers, Danny Barnes, Keith Earls; Ronan O'Gara, Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O'Connell (capt), Denis Leamy, Peter O'Mahony, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Niall Ronan, Tomas O'Leary, Scott Deasy, Lifeimi Mafi.