Number 8 Denis Leamy will captain Munster for their Magners League showdown with the Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park on Saturday (kick-off 5pm), with Paul O’Connell set to make his long-awaited return for the province from the bench.
Stand-in captain Denis Leamy is joined in the Munster starting line-up by seven other players who featured for Ireland during the recent GUINNESS Series – Keith Earls, Ronan O’Gara, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donncha O’Callaghan and Peter Stringer who gets the nod over Tomas O’Leary.
In all, head coach Tony McGahan has made 12 changes to the team that started last weekend’s 20-6 loss to the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade.
With Scott Deasy, Doug Howlett and Barry Murphy stepping aside, Johne Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi and Keith Earls have been included in a back-line which will be spearheaded by O’Gara and Stringer.
There is an all new front five as Wian du Preez, Varley and Buckley start in the front row and O’Driscoll and O’Callaghan combine in the second row, as they did for Ireland last month.
The two changes in the back row see Alan Quinlan and Leamy link up once again with openside flanker Niall Ronan, the only survivor from the pack that started against the Dragons.
John Hayes and David Wallace, who both saw action in the GUINNESS Series, have been added to an experienced replacements bench, along with the fit-again Paul O’Connell.
The 31-year-old O’Connell has not played for his native province since last January, due to a groin problem and subsequent complications.
He took his first steps back in a 40-minute runout for Young Munster against Shannon last Friday, and will be hoping to improve his match fitness with a cameo role against the Blues.
It is all systems go for Munster’s Magners League clash with Cardiff at Thomond Park. The Limerick venue’s pitch passed an inspection on Friday afternoon.
IRFU referee Peter Fitzgibbon joined Thomond Park Stadium officials and chief groundsman Nick Grene for a 1pm inspection and gave the go-ahead for the game.
The pitch has been covered in a thick layer of straw that will be removed on Saturday afternoon and credit must go to Grene and his hard-working staff for staving off the possibility of a postponement.
MUNSTER (v Cardiff Blues): Johne Murphy; Lifeimi Mafi, Keith Earls, Sam Tuitupou, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donncha O’Callaghan, Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Dave Ryan, John Hayes, Paul O’Connell, David Wallace, Tomas O’Leary, Paul Warwick, Barry Murphy.