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Magners Preview: Connacht v Munster

Magners Preview: Connacht v Munster

Amlin Challenge Cup chasers Connacht host Heineken Cup hopefuls Munster in Sunday’s interprovincial derby at the Sportsground. The westerners are near full strength, while Munster have included three debutants in their starting line-up.

MAGNERS LEAGUE: Sunday, April 18

CONNACHT (10th) v MUNSTER (4th), the Sportsground, 5.05pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)

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Team News: The Connacht team shows one change to the one which started against Bourgoin in last weekend’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final, with Bernie Upton starting in the second row and Michael McCarthy reverting to the bench.

Connacht may still be bottom of the Magners League but they have struck up a rich vein of form in recent weeks, culminating in last Saturday’s superb Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final win over Bourgoin.

Head coach Michael Bradley has been pleased with what he has seen from the players and more of the same will be required if they are to extended their unbeaten home run to nine matches this weekend.

“The most important thing is there is a lot of confidence and there is a good reason. It’s mainly due to the fact that the side is maturing, taking responsibility, that’s what happens when sides evolve,” he said.

Last season saw Connacht make history as they beat Munster for the first time since 1986, and they will be doubly determined to be victorious on Sunday as they look to close the gap on eighth-placed Ulster.

As the two provinces battle it out to gain Heineken Cup qualifications, Bradley’s charges are now five points behind Brian McLaughlin’s Ulster side and have the benefit of a game-in-hand – they host Leinster in their refixed clash next Wednesday.

While the Munster pack has a familiar ring to it, coach Tony McGahan has named three senior debutants in the province’s starting back-line for Sunday’s encounter with Connacht.

Ireland Under-20 wingers Simon Zebo and Danny Barnes and Thomond’s Declan Cusack are the newcomers in a Munster side that will be led by lock Mick O’Driscoll.

The opportunity presents itself because of the injury situation among the backs in the Munster squad. Denis Hurley, Doug Howlett, Ian Dowling, Keith Earls, Jean de Villiers and Barry Murphy are all nursing injuries of varying degrees.

But, in pre-season and the British & Irish Cup games, Zebo, Barnes and Cusack have shown what they are capable of and Sunday’s step-up at the Sportsground is well within their capabilities.

Zebo was a regular in the Ireland Under-20s’ Championship-winning side this season, while Barnes was called into the Irish Under-20 squad last summer for the Junior World Championship in Japan, as was replacement scrum half for Sunday, Conor Murray.

The highly-regarded Cusack has been director of operations for Anthony Foley’s British & Irish Cup side, playing a crucial part in their march to the semi-final.

As Munster bid to get back to winning ways in the Magners League, Paul Warwick and Peter Stringer will provide the experience in the backs, with Warwick at inside centre alongside Tom Gleeson and Scott Deasy lining out at full-back.

In all, the Munster management have made twelve changes to the side that overcame Northampton Saints in last Saturday’s super-charged Heineken Cup quarter-final. Warwick, O’Driscoll and number 8 James Coughlan are the only survivors.

Up front, loosehead prop Dave Ryan will make his first competitive start for the province, while UL Bohemians lock Dave Foley, Garryowen’s Murray and UCC full-back Sean Scanlon could make their senior debuts off the bench.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Troy Nathan, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Bernie Upton, John Muldoon (capt), Johnny O’Connor, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Michael McCarthy, Mike McComish, Conor O’Loughlin, Miah Nikora, Aidan Wynne.

MUNSTER: Scott Deasy; Simon Zebo, Tom Gleeson, Paul Warwick, Danny Barnes; Declan Cusack, Peter Stringer; Dave Ryan, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll (capt), Billy Holland, Nick Williams, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Julien Brugnaut, Dave Foley, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Jeremy Manning, Sean Scanlon.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: tbc, Michael Black (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: John Carvill (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 2/5; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 15/8

Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Bradley (Connacht) – “Ulster will have played two matches before we play Munster, so down the way we know what requirements are necessary and whether it’s possible or not to catch them in the Magners, and that will have a probably have a bearing on the approach.

“But aside from that, when we talk about playing Munster or Leinster at home, these matches in themselves are massive for us, and there will be no issue in terms of motivation.

“We look forward to it as an individual challenge, and again, as a means to an end in terms of a result in the season.

“You judge yourself by Ulster, Leinster and Munster matches. We did not do well against Ulster here earlier in the season, losing 30-6, and have to start picking up derby matches – beginning with Sunday’s game.

“Over the years there is a growing respect from Munster and having beaten them last year, it is something they were not happy with. But we are playing better than last year, and it’s a great opportunity to turn them over again.

“We go into the match with confidence in that we have an effective game-plan that can beat Munster.”

Shaun Payne (Munster) – “There’s three games left in the competition. We can’t afford to be dropping any points at this stage.

“It’s Connacht at the Sportsground. Every year it’s a very close game and obviously we came a-cropper there last season, losing 12-6.

“If you look at their recent form, I think they’ve been outstanding…the best I’ve seen them play since I’ve been here (in Ireland).

“I thought they were excellent against Leinster away and deserved to win that game. They did brilliantly to come through last weekend against Bourgoin.

“This is a vital game and there are more to follow this one and obviously with a a challenge like this, the temptation is to pick your frontline team. But we have to take cognisance of what lies ahead and plan accordingly.

“Every single game at this stage of the competition is important. But this one first and it is a question of balancing the books.”

Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 121; Tries: Fionn Carr 7; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 62; Tries: Jean de Villiers 5 


Sunday, December 31, 2006 – Connacht 8 Munster 14, the Sportsground 
Thursday, December 27, 2007 – Munster 17 Connacht 0, Musgrave Park 
Friday, March 28, 2008 – Connacht 5 Munster 16, the Sportsground 
Sunday, December 28, 2008 – Connacht 12 Munster 6, the Sportsground 
Saturday, April 18, 2009 – Munster 25 Connacht 10, Thomond Park 
Saturday, December 26, 2009 – Munster 35 Connacht 3, Thomond Park 


– Connacht’s only defeat in their last five games was a 17-14 reversal at Leinster on March 27

– Connacht have not lost at home since September, when Ulster came to the Sportsground and left securing a 30-6 victory

– Munster reside in a play-off spot in the Magners League table despite the fact that they have lost six of their last eleven games in the competition

– Munster’s only away win in the Magners League so far this season was a 22-20 success at the Scarlets on September 19

– Connacht have beaten Munster only once in their last 32 meetings since 1986. They won 12-6 at the Sportsground in the Magners League in December 2008