Munster coach Declan Kidney has opted to make seven changes to the team that lost to Cardiff Blues for Saturday’s Magners League derby tie with Ulster (Musgrave Park, kick-off 7.30pm), with a host of Ireland internationals coming back into the province’s matchday squad.
Saturday’s game against Ulster will be a notable one for Munster’s long-time number 8 Anthony Foley as he wins his 195th competitive cap for the province.
Of the seven changes four of them are in the back-line with Denis Hurley replacing Shaun Payne at full-back, Ian Dowling preferred to Brian Carney on the left wing and Tomas O’Leary starting as Ronan O’Gara’s half-back partner instead of Peter Stringer.
With Stringer out of international favour during the recent Six Nations championship, his availability to Munster resulted in O’Leary getting very little game-time and the management felt it prudent to address that situation with the next stage of the Heineken Cup looming.
In the pack, Kidney retains the same back row that started in Cardiff but in the front row Marcus Horan comes in for Federico Pucciariello and fit-again hooker Jerry Flannery gets much needed game-time ahead of Frankie Sheahan.
Mick O’Driscoll’s experience gives him the nod in the second row over Donnacha Ryan, who is named on a strong replacements bench that includes Sheahan, Stringer and their fellow internationals John Hayes and Donncha O’Callaghan.
Emphasising the important of this weekend’s game, Kidney said: “We are fully focussed on the game. It’s a huge one for us because we are fully aware that we have to win our remaining seven games to put pressure on the league leaders.
“Ulster have won all their games since the appointment of their new coach Matt Williams, so they’ve built up momentum and we know we are up against it tomorrow.”
Kidney, commenting on having the internationals back after the Six Nations, added: “It’s great of course to have the internationals back, to be working again with a full squad. But those not involved at international levels have trained really well and worked hard in the period when the others were away. I think the team we’ve selected for tomorrow reflects that.”
MUNSTER (v Ulster): Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett, Kieran Lewis, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, Anthony Foley.
Replacements: Frankie Sheahan, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan, James Coughlan, Peter Stringer, Paul Warwick.