12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Saturday, January 1 Munster v Leinster, Musgrave Park, 5.30pm
Declan Kidney will be returning to his native city of Cork for the first time as Leinster coach as he seeks to end Munster supremo Alan Gaffney's run of nine straight league wins.
It is second (Munster) against third at Musgrave - but Leinster will have to hurdle the weight of history if they are to triumph. The province are without a a win at the Leeside venue since a 15-6 triumph in November 1985.
Leinster's last win in Munster came in 1998 - when they scored a 24-18 success in front of just 250 people at Dooradoyle. Munster's John Kelly - missing for today's tie due to a bruised ankle - scored an injury time try the last time the sides met in Cork, last February - a 24-13 win for Gaffney's men.
The wily Australian has made seven changes to the Munster XV which edged Connacht 3-0 on Monday. Centres Mike Mullins and Rob Henderson, half backs Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer and the forward might of hooker Frankie Sheahan, flanker Alan Quinlan and skipper Anthony Foley are among those recalled.
Kidney played it coy by naming his starting line-up late - with a bank of 15 Ireland internationals in his squad.
Unfortunately one of those, Malcolm O'Kelly has been forced to withdraw his services, and Ben Gissing will be Leo Cullen's second row partner this afternoon.
As expected, centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy start together for the first time since October's 30-11 Heineken Cup Pool 2 win over Bath. Full back Girvan Dempsey also gets the nod ahead of Argentine Felipe Contepomi - who kicked three penalties in Leinster's 9-8 win over Ulster on Monday.
That late Donnybrook success marked Kidney's charges' fifth league win on-the-trot.
(15) Christian Cullen (14) Shaun Payne (13) Mike Mullins (12) Rob Henderson (11) Anthony Horgan (10) Ronan O'Gara (9) Peter Stringer (1) Marcus Horan (2) Frankie Sheahan (3) John Hayes (4) Donncha O'Callaghan (5) Paul O'Connell (6) Alan Quinlan (7) Denis Leamy (8) Anthony Foley (Capt)
(16) Jerry Flannery (17) Gordon McIlwham (18) Jim Williams (19) Trevor Hogan (20) Mike Prendergast (21) Paul Burke (22) Mossy Lawlor
(15) Girvan Dempsey (14) Shane Horgan (13) Brian O'Driscoll (12) Gordon D'Arcy (11) Denis Hickie (10) David Holwell (9) Guy Easterby (1) Reggie Corrigan (Capt) (2) Shane Byrne (3) Emmett Byrne (4) Leo Cullen (5) Ben Gissing (6) Eric Miller (7) Shane Jennings (8) Victor Costello
(16) Ricky Nebbett (17) David Blaney (18) Ciaran Potts (19) Aidan McCullen (20) Brian O'Meara (21) Felipe Contepomi (22) Kieran Lewis
Referee: Alan Lewis (IRFU)
Ulster v Connacht, Ravenhill, 4.00pm
Ulster - backed by four wins in their last five outings at Ravenhill - will have to do without Ireland prop Simon Best for their eighth-versus-seventh struggle with Connacht.
The 26-year-old failed a late fitness test on a back injury, and is replaced at tighthead by Ronan McCormack, with Simon Shawe coming into coach Mark McCall's 22.
The northerners, however, will be boosted by the availability of experienced fly-half Humphreys, back at number 10, and former skipper Ward - who should come off the bench for his first appearance in six weeks.
Humphreys kicked three crucial penalties back in September at the Sportsground in Galway, as Ulster ran out 19-13 winners.
Connacht coach Michael Bradley, perhaps mindful of a decent chance for the visitors to wrestle away their first win in Belfast since November 1960, has made just three changes to the side which kept Munster to just one penalty kick (3-0) on Monday.
Justin Meagher and Chris Keane come into the backs, with Michael Swift replacing John Muldoon in the number six jersey.
This is the second of three pivotal games in 11 days for Connacht - who meet Grenoble in France next Friday in their Challenge Cup quarter final first leg - and Bradley will be keen to avoid any injuries this afternoon.
(15) Bryn Cunningham (14) Tommy Bowe (13) Paul Steinmetz (12) Kevin Maggs (11) Tyrone Howe (10) David Humphreys (9) Kieran Campbell (1) Ronan McCormack (2) Rory Best (3) Rod Moore (4) Gary Longwell (5) Matt McCullough (6) Campbell Feather (Capt) (7) Neil Best (8) Roger Wilson
(16) Paul Shields (17) Simon Shawe (18) Rowan Frost (19) Andy Ward (20) Neil Doak (21) Adam Larkin (22) Jonny Bell
(15) Matt Mostyn (14) Justin Meagher (13) Darren Yapp (12) James Downey (11) Conor McPhillips (10) Paul Warwick (9) Chris Keane (1) Ray Hogan (2) Bernard Jackman (3) Peter Bracken (4) Christian Short (5) Andrew Farley (Capt) (6) Michael Swift (7) Matt Lacey (8) John O'Sullivan
(16) John Fogarty (17) Adrian Clarke (18) Pieter Myburgh (19) John Muldoon (20) Tom Tierney (21) Eric Elwood (22) Ted Robinson
Referee: David Keane (IRFU)