Munster head coach Tony McGahan has made eight changes in personnel for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 derby clash with Connacht at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.45pm).
Five of those changes come in the pack where there is a return to action for Damien Varley and James Coughlan, neither of whom played against Aironi in Munster’s most recent league outing.
In the back-line, the London Irish-bound Tomas O’Leary partners Ian Keatley at half-back and Johne Murphy is paired with Lifeimi Mafi, who has signed for Perpignan, in the centre.
Birmingham-born second year Academy player Luke O’Dea, who has been added to the province’s Heineken Cup squad, is listed among the replacements.
The Shannon winger marked his debut at senior level with a try against Edinburgh in November and followed up with tries against Ulster and the Newport Gwent Dragons. He will take up a Development contract next season.
Mafi’s move to Perpignan was officially confirmed on Wednesday and Tony McGahan was fulsome in his praise of the 29-year-old Tongan.
“He has been an outstanding contributor to the Munster set-up. A thorough professional on and off the field and an extremely populer squad member with both players and management,” explained McGahan.
“He has played an integral part in the success Munster have enjoyed in the league and Heineken Cup since joining in 2006.
“I believe that when it comes to discuss the greats who have worn the Munster jersey, Lifeimi will be right up there among them.”
Besides the consistency he brought to his play, Mafi was also one of Munster most regular performers, averaging 23 games a season. On Saturday he will play his 21st game of the 2011/2012 campaign, 20 of which have been in the starting side.
MUNSTER (v Connacht): Felix Jones; Denis Hurley, Johne Murphy, Lifeimi Mafi, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Tomas O’Leary; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Ian Nagle, Mick O’Driscoll (capt), David O’Callaghan, David Wallace, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Marcus Horan, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, Scott Deasy, Luke O’Dea.