The defending Magners League champions host the current table toppers. This early season clash has plenty on the line as Munster, who have lost their last two league matches, look to take their impressive winning run at home to 11 games. For Ulster, a repeat of last year’s memorable 37-11 victory at Thomond Park seems unlikely but on recent form, Brian McLaughlin’s men should be capable of picking up their fourth straight win over the men in red.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, October 31
MUNSTER (6th) v ULSTER (1st), Thomond Park Stadium, 5pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: Munster coach Tony McGahan has made two changes to the side which started against Edinburgh last time out for Saturday’s Magners League derby showdown with pacesetters Ulster.
Both of those changes come in the pack with Academy player Stephen Archer coming into the front row in place of the injured Darragh Hurley and Alan Quinlan adding his considerable experience to the back row ahead of Niall Ronan who is named among the replacements.
Archer replaced Hurley in Murrayfield and although he was named in the extended squad earlier in the week, the injury to the shoulder he sustained there failed to respond to treatment.
Hurley was present when Munster trained at Musgrave Park on Thursday – in front of an audience of several hundred – but was confined to working with the fitness coaches, while Archer was put through his paces with the squad.
Julien Brugnaut will operate in his favoured loosehead position having started the game against Edinburgh on the opposite side of the front row.
Quinlan, who was omitted from Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad announced on Tuesday, comes back into the back row at the expense of Ronan, but the latter has been preferred on the Munster bench to Ireland squad member Donnacha Ryan.
A sub-Academy prop, Dave Kilcoyne, will provide the back-up to Brugnaut and Archer amongst the replacements. Kilcoyne from UL Bohemians made a good impression in the recent Munster ‘A’ victory over Leinster in Clonmel RFC.
Meanwhile, Paddy Wallace returns to captain the Ulster side after being rested last week under the IRFU 2011 World Cup Programme.
He takes over in midfield from Ian Whitten who has dropped down to the replacements bench.
Stephen Ferris is also back in the number 6 jersey, after recovering from the ankle injury which kept him out of the Leinster game last weekend.
In the third personnel change, Ed O’Donoghue replaces the injured Dan Tuohy in the second row.
Commenting on Ulster’s final Magners League game before the break for the autumn internationals, head coach Brian McLaughlin said: “You’ve always got to be wary of Munster. When you think of what has happened to them in the past month, they are going to want to get back on track.
“They are playing at Thomond Park, where they’re extremely strong, so we are under no illusions about what we’re going to face down there.
“It will be a very confrontational full-strength Munster side, so it’s going to be a very hard game.
“We just have to concern ourselves with going down there with the right attitude, playing with the confidence we have been and looking for a good performance.
“It’s going to be a good check for us. It’s going to be a good place to go, take them on and test ourselves.”
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Ian Dowling, Lifeimi Mafi, Jean de Villiers, Keith Earls; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Julien Brugnaut, Denis Fogarty, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements: Damien Varley, Dave Kilcoyne, Mick O’Driscoll, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Denis Hurley, Felix Jones.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace (capt), Andrew Trimble; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry.
Replacements: Andy Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Tamaiti Horua, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Keane, Kevin Beggs (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/3; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 9/4
Say What: Alan Quinlan (Munster) – “I think all home games are must-win no matter what competition you’re playing, so this one isn’t any different certainly as far as we’re concerned.
“There’s no crisis in the camp, there’s no panic. This is as good a squad as I’ve been involved with.
“We’re a tight bunch – players and management – and I’ve no doubt whatsoever that we have what it takes within ourselves to turn things around.
“There’s a load of experience in the side and that’s what’s needed at times like this. Then there’s the younger lads there as well and we have plenty of good young talent coming through.
“So no, I don’t think we’re ailing and ageing, I think there’s a good blend there.
“I don’t know how many sides could lose six front row players and not be affected to some degree. But yes I do accept that our form has been patchy but at the same time it’s early days.
“It’s the end of October, not January and I’d prefer maybe if people would wait for a while longer before they judge us.
“Do that later in the year and if we have to hold our hands up, we will. We’ve always been honest. With ourselves and with the public I hope.
“There were signs there last year Ulster were heading in the right direction. They’re a good side playing good rugby right now.
“They were impressive last week against Leinster and on a formline through them (Leinster), we are underdogs big time on Saturday.”
Clinton Schifcofske (Ulster) – “Our best players this season have been our Irish players. You take Willie Faloon, Chris Henry, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Ian Humphreys – they have all been excellent.
“Our defence is really solid. Darren Cave is a terrific player in that respect. He knows how to read situations.
“I know we let Leinster in for a late try the other night, but I think that was because we’d just taken our foot off the gas right at the end. Up until then, our defence had been really excellent.
“I think defence always is a good indication of the spirit in a team. When you see everybody working, inside and outside, that tells you a lot about what’s going on in that side.
“I think Ian has been spectacular in the game management department. He takes a lot of pressure off by knowing when to kick to the corners, for example.
“A team takes real encouragement when they have somebody who keeps taking them forward like that.
“I know it’s very cliched but it is about taking one game at a time. That’s where we are at the moment – just taking each game as it comes.
“I think we’re also learning from a few mistakes we’ve made in a couple of games where we haven’t performed that well.
“We have come back after those games and turned it around in the next one, which is always a good sign. I think when we’re able to do that it’s proof we’re heading in the right direction.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Munster – Points: Jeremy Manning 30; Tries: Nick Williams 3; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 60; Tries: Simon Danielli, Timoci Nagusa, Andrew Trimble 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, January 3, 2009 – Munster 11 Ulster 37, Thomond Park
– Munster have slipped to successive defeats in the Magners League, but at home the champions continue to be formidable with ten straight victories at their two grounds in all competitions
– Ulster’s only reversal in their last five matches was a 17-13 defeat at Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup on October 17
– The Ulstermen are going for a third straight away victory in the Magners League, something they have achieved only once before – the 2001/02 season
– Ulster have won their last three clashes with Munster which already represents their best run of success against the men in red since the early 1990s