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First Heineken Cup Start For Flanker O’Callaghan

First Heineken Cup Start For Flanker O’Callaghan

There are no great surprises in the Munster team selected for Saturday’s Heineken Cup round 3 encounter with Saracens at Thomond Park (kick-off 6pm), even if there are seven changes to the side that started against Edinburgh in the previous round.

Two of those changes are positional while three players who start against Saracens – James Coughlan, Ronan O’Gara and Keith Earls – missed out last time through injury.

Felix Jones, who had an injury-disrupted start to the season, will make his second Heineken Cup start for the province at full-back, linking up with captain Doug Howlett and Simon Zebo in a talent-laden back-three.

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Earls returned to the outside centre berth against Glasgow Warriors last weekend after the November internationals and he retains that jersey at the expense of Casey Laulala, who offers a very potent back option from the bench.

And with back-rowers Niall Ronan, Sean Dougall and Tommy O’Donnell all on the injury list, opportunity knocks for David O’Callaghan who has been handed the blindside berth for what will be his first Heineken Cup start.

O’Callaghan, a 22-year-old Development-contracted player from Youghal, County Cork, came on as a replacement in the final pool game last season against Northampton Saints.

This season the promising youngster has been a regular wearer of the number 6 jersey, starting in seven RaboDirect PRO12 matches and being on bench duty against Racing Metro 92 and Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup.

Given the blight on the back rows, Coughlan’s return is particularly opportune. He has confounded the medics by returning from a groin tear way ahead of schedule. He proved his fitness with a 75-minute shift against Glasgow.

Recent Ireland debutant David Kilcoyne will make his third successive European start in the front row, less than a week before his 24th birthday.

At the other end of the scale it will be out-half O’Gara’s 106th appearance in the Heineken Cup. His record points tally for the tournament currently stands at 1303 points.

MUNSTER (v Saracens): Felix Jones; Doug Howlett (capt), Keith Earls, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan, David O’Callaghan, Peter O’Mahony, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Damien Varley, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Casey Laulala.