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GUINNESS PRO14: Monday, January 1

ULSTER (3rd, Con B) v MUNSTER (2nd, Con A), Kingspan Stadium, 5.35pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/TG4)

Team News: Director of rugby Les Kiss has confirmed the Ulster starting XV for their sold-out New Year's Day clash with provincial rivals Munster at Kingspan Stadium on Monday.

Rob Herring has recovered from concussion and will captain the side for the GUINNESS PRO14 derby. Rodney Ah You (wrist) and Kyle McCall (shoulder) have returned from two-month injury lay-offs and will join their skipper in the front row.

Alan O'Connor and Ireland international Kieran Treadwell, who performed so well together in the back-to-back Champions Cup victories over Harlequins earlier this month, are reunited in the second row.

Jean Deysel, who has also been out of action for over two months, is named at number 8, with the Abbey Insurance Academy duo of Nick Timoney and Greg Jones selected alongside the four times-capped Springbok in the back row.

Christian Lealiifano and John Cooney are paired together in the half-back positions once again, while Stuart McCloskey and Louis Ludik will combine in midfield. Young winger Robert Lyttle, a try-scoring replacement against Connacht, will make his first start of the season with Craig Gilroy and Charles Piutau completing an exciting back-three.

A further two Academy players, Adam McBurney and Johnny McPhillips, are selected among the replacements. Callum Black, Wiehahn Herbst, Robbie Diack and Matthew Rea will join McBurney as forward cover, while the experienced Paul Marshall and Andrew Trimble, both of whom have over 200 Ulster caps to their name, round off the matchday 23.

Individual tickets for the match are sold out but you can still attend by purchasing a 2018 Game Pass, which covers all six of Ulster's remaining home fixtures this season. Visit ulsterrugby.com/gamepass for details.



Meanwhile, as expected, Munster head coach Johann van Graan has named a much-changed team for their trip north to face Ulster. In making 11 changes to the side that went down 34-24 to Leinster, James Cronin, Niall Scannell and John Ryan start together in the front row for the first time this season.

Darren O'Shea joins Billy Holland in the second row with the ever-present Holland taking over the captaincy duties for his 16th successive start in this campaign. Tommy O'Donnell, who switches to blindside flanker, is the other forward retained with Chris Cloete returning to the openside berth and Jack O'Donoghue starting at number 8.

Keith Earls has recovered from illness to be named in the back-line and joins Sam Arnold in forming a new midfield pairing for the province. Arnold switches to inside centre this week and the returning Earls will line out outside him.

With Alex Wootton again on the left wing, Munster Academy starlet Calvin Nash starts on the opposite flank for his first start of the season, and full-back Simon Zebo completes the back-three. JJ Hanrahan,who comes in for his fourth start of the current campaign, and Duncan Williams form the half-back pairing.

Named among the replacements is winger Ronan O'Mahony who has successfully rehabbed the fractured fibula he sustained against Benetton Rugby last April. If sprung from the bench, prop Jeremy Loughman, who was previously capped with Leinster, will make his PRO14 debut for Munster in Belfast.

ULSTER: Charles Piutau; Craig Gilroy, Louis Ludik, Stuart McCloskey, Robert Lyttle; Christian Lealiifano, John Cooney; Kyle McCall, Rob Herring (capt), Rodney Ah You, Alan O'Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Nick Timoney, Jean Deysel.

Replacements: Adam McBurney, Callum Black, Wiehahn Herbst, Robbie Diack, Matthew Rea, Paul Marshall, Johnny McPhillips, Andrew Trimble.

MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Calvin Nash, Keith Earls, Sam Arnold, Alex Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Darren O'Shea, Billy Holland (capt), Tommy O'Donnell, Chris Cloete, Jack O'Donoghue.

Replacements: Kevin O'Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Robin Copeland, James Hart, Bill Johnston, Ronan O'Mahony.

Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, Paul Haycock (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/7; Draw: 17/1; Munster to win: 6/4

Pre-Match Quotes: Charles Piutau (Ulster) - "Hopefully, come Monday, we'll make everyone proud. The pressure is on but I am excited for it. What a day, what an occasion it will be! To play against an in-form Munster team on New Year's Day, at home in Kingspan Stadium, will be special.

"Training has been tough this week. The intensity is up there and we're really challenging each other because we know what this game means. We're one team of players, management and coaches, and we want to get the win for each other. We want to do it for our coaches and for Les (Kiss) because he means a lot to us and does a lot for the squad and province.

"Munster kick a lot and it's good kicking game. They put a lot of pressure on, their defence is very strong and they've a lot of line speed. If we could diffuse those things I think we should go alright, but it does start with our set piece and laying a platform that our forwards can build on."

JJ Hanrahan (Munster) - "I wouldn't say (it has been) frustrating. I think the main thing for me is that coming back (to Munster) with a shoulder injury, I was out for the bones of six months and I suppose I missed the first five games of the season.

"I was just trying to find my feet early days and you can't expect really to walk into this team, so for me it is just
grafting every day and keeping my head down and just trying to work on. Getting the chance against Ulster, it is a big opportunity. It is not easy up there. Kingspan can be a hostile enough place as we all know, but I think it is a challenge you have to relish if you are going up there.

"Ulster are coming off a big defeat against Connacht, so they will definitely be hurting and they are going to come out of the blocks all guns blazing, so whoever is selected for the game, they would want to be ready for it, put it that way.

"I am happy enough. I think I can improve, there is plenty still to improve on. Rugby is an ongoing battle every day. Some days are good, some are not, especially in the number 10 role. Some days you can have really good games, but there is so much more involved than just you to make you perform well. Overall, pretty happy, but keep building."





Top Scorers - 2017/18 GUINNESS PRO14: Ulster - Points: John Cooney 71; Tries: Andrew Trimble 5; Munster - Points: Ian Keatley 60; Tries: Alex Wootton 7

2017/18 TEAM FORM: Ulster - Played 11, Won 7, Drawn 1, Lost 3, 35 Points; W 42-19 v Toyota Cheetahs (home), W 21-14 v Benetton Rugby (away), W 27-20 v Scarlets (home), W 52-25 v Dragons (home), L 27-23 v Zebre (away), W 16-8 v Connacht (home), L 25-10 v Leinster (home), W 43-36 v Southern Kings (away), W 23-22 v Benetton Rugby (home), D 32-32 v Dragons (away), L 44-16 v Connacht (away); Munster - Played 11, Won 7, Lost 4, 37 Points; W 34-3 v Benetton Rugby (home), W 51-18 v Toyota Cheetahs (home), W 21-16 v Ospreys (away), L 37-10 v Glasgow Warriors (away), W 39-16 v Cardiff Blues (home), L 23-17 v Leinster (away), L 20-16 v Connacht (away), W 49-6 v Dragons (home), W 36-19 v Zebre (away), W 36-10 v Ospreys (home), L 34-24 v Leinster (home)

RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:

Friday, November 28, 2014 - Munster 21 Ulster 20, Thomond Park
Saturday, May 9, 2015 - Ulster 23 Munster 23, Kingspan Stadium
Friday, October 30, 2015 - Munster 32 Ulster 28, Thomond Park
Saturday, January 2, 2016 - Ulster 7 Munster 9, Kingspan Stadium
Friday, October 28, 2016 - Ulster 14 Munster 15, Kingspan Stadium
Saturday, April 15, 2017 - Munster 22 Ulster 20, Thomond Park

MATCH FACTS:

- Ulster's five-match unbeaten run in all competitions ended with their 44-16 reversal at Connacht before Christmas

- Ulster have lost just once in Belfast in the GUINNESS PRO14 since Munster last won there in October 2016: 25-10 to Leinster in round 7 this season

- Munster's five-match winning streak in all competitions was ended by Leinster at Thomond Park on St. Stephen's Day

- The Munstermen have won just twice on the road in the PRO14 this season, at the Ospreys in round 3 and at Zebre in round 9

- Munster have won their last four fixtures against Ulster since the two provinces played out a 23-all draw in Belfast in May 2015, while Ulster's most recent victory over Munster was 19-17 in Limerick in May 2014

- The Munstermen have won on their last two visits to Kingspan Stadium and have never won three-in-a-row in Belfast since they first made the trip north in 1910
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