Both Munster and Ulster will be eager to start 2009 with a bang, after suffering defeats last time out in the Magners League. Ulster were 22-6 victors when the sides met at Ravenhill in October, so Munster will be doubly determined to beat them and move back to the top of the league table.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, January 3
MUNSTER v ULSTER, Thomond Park Stadium, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: Ronan O’Gara will return to the Munster side on Saturday to lead them for their Magners League derby encounter with Ulster at Thomond Park Stadium.
Denis Hurley has also been included in the Munster back-line, along with Kieran Lewis who takes over from Ian Dowling on the left wing.
Centre Rua Tipoki returns to the province’s starting line-up for the first time since the All Blacks game in mid-Novembe.
In the forwards, former Auckland Blues back rower Nick Williams will make his first senior start for Munster at number 8. He was used as a second half replacement in the 12-6 defeat to Connacht.
For the New Year visit of Ulster, Munster coach Tony McGahan has selected a reinforced pack, with recalls for Ireland internationals Jerry Flannery, John Hayes and Donncha O’Callaghan.
Meanwhile, Ulster coach Matt Williams has named his side to travel to Limerick to take on Munster.
The Ulster starting line-up shows four changes to the one which started last weekend’s 21-13 defeat to Leinster at Ravenhill.
Clinton Schifcoske replaces Bryn Cunningham at full-back in the only change to the back-line.
Up front, Tom Court and Kieron Dawson have been preferred to Justin Fitzpatrick and David Pollock at loosehead prop and openside flanker respectively.
Club captain Rory Best is rested this weekend, so Nigel Brady has been promoted from the replacements bench to the starting hooker berth and Stuart Philpott will provide cover for him.
Former Ireland international Dawson will captain the team and is ready to lead by example.
“I’ve said to the players a few times that the senior players in the squad have got to lead the rest of them,” he said.
“At the end of the day we are Ulster and we are going down to do a job against Munster and we have got to believe in ourselves.
“I’m looking forward to playing in a great stadium against a great side, running yourself into the ground and sitting in the changing rooms being able to look each other in the eye afterwards.”
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett, Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi, Kieran Lewis; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Peter Stringer; Federico Pucciariello, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Timmy Ryan, James Coughlan, Alan Quinlan, Mike Prendergast, Paul Warwick, Barry Murphy.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcoske; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Timoci Nagusa; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Matt McCullough, Ed O’Donoghue, Stephen Ferris, Kieron Dawson (capt), Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Stuart Philpott, Justin Fitzpatrick, Filo Paulo, David Pollock, Paul Marshall, Paul Steinmetz, Bryn Cunningham.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Keane, Alan Rogan (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: John Carvill (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/10; Draw: 25/1; Ulster to win: 11/2
Say What: Mick O’Driscoll (Munster) – “There were a lot of negatives in the match with Connacht. We need to get back to the drawing board for the Ulster game. We were a long way off where we should have been.
“The Connacht game was obviously very disappointing for us. Traditionally our games with Connacht have been tight over the years. There have been plenty of 3-0, 3-3 and 6-0 scorelines.
“Unfortunately we just did not perform. All credit has to go to Connacht. They went about their business well. They played well on the night and we did not.
“You can’t afford to try and play a Magners League game and not show up basically. At the end of the day, you have to credit Connacht for their work-rate, their enthusiasm and their spirit.
“I don’t think it is a bad blow to our hopes of winning the Magners League. Obviously, a win would have given us a nice cushion at the top of the league.
“The next few weeks are vital for us. Ulster put a very good run together from the time they beat us at Ravenhill until they lost to Leinster on Saturday night.
“It will be a really tough match for us. We need to get back to winning ways, beginning with the Ulster match and then of course we face the Ospreys. We are not looking too far ahead.”
Matt Williams (Ulster) – “Look, (Thomond Park) is just another place to go. Everyone makes too much of it
“Yes, Munster are a fantastic team. But we have beaten them at home in the last two seasons.
“Everyone tends to put them up on a pedestal, so psychologically people feel they cannot act down there.
“You just have to turn up and want to do it. If we defend like we did against Leinster we will be close to them. That’s the reality of it.
“Munster are a great side, but if we can learn from the Leinster game and go forward, as we have been, we will be there or thereabouts.
“There is no doubt we will have to be a bit stronger than we were against Leinster, but there is absolutely no reason why we cannot go down there and really challenge them.
“It is one thing to be able to know what to do as a coach, but you really have to stand up as a player to do it.
“If we turn up with the right attitude then we will do okay. If we do not, then we will simply lose.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Munster: Ronan O’Gara 44; Ulster: Ian Humphreys 38; Tries: Munster: Keith Earls, Doug Howlett 4 each; Ulster: Timoci Nagusa 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, March 3, 2006 – Ulster 27 Munster 3, Ravenhill
Saturday, September 30, 2006 – Munster 21 Ulster 13, Musgrave Park
Friday, March 23, 2007 – Ulster 21 Munster 24, Ravenhill
Saturday, March 22, 2008 – Munster 42 Ulster 6, Musgrave Park
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 – Ulster 19 Munster 9, Ravenhill
Saturday, October 25, 2008 – Ulster 22 Munster 6, Ravenhill
– A win for Munster on Saturday would see them regain top spot in the Magners League, however they have won just one of their last three matches in the league – an 18-16 victory at the Scarlets on November 28
– The Munstermen have not been defeated by Irish opposition at Thomond Park since Leinster won 19-15 in the Interprovincial Championship on December 16, 1995
– Ulster’s three-match winning run in the Magners League came to a halt at Ravenhill last Saturday with a 21-13 defeat to Leinster. Their 30-13 win at Connacht on November 23, 2007 still stands as their only away success since April 2007
– Ulster have won their last two games against Munster, but both matches were played at Ravenhill
– Ulster’s last win in Munster was a 20-17 triumph in Cork on December 3, 2005 and their last victory at Thomond Park was a 12-11 win in the Interprovincial Championship on November 28, 1992