Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named his team for the sold-out New Year’s Day clash with Munster at the Sportsground (kick-off 5pm). There are seven changes to the starting line-up from the Ulster game.
The international trio of Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion and Rodney Ah You all return for the westerners’ opening game of 2015. All Black centurion Mils Muliaina starts at full-back, while Galway man Darragh Leader moves to the right wing with Danie Poolman on the left.
Bundee Aki shifts to inside centre to partner Henshaw for the second time this season, and the 24-year-old Craig Ronaldson is handed the reins at out-half.
Denis Buckley is named at loosehead prop for his 15th appearance of the current campaign and starts in a front row with hooker Tom McCartney and Ah You (pictured below) at tighthead.
Quinn Roux returns from the ankle injury that forced him to withdraw late in Belfast last week. He partners Aly Muldowney, Connacht’s try scorer against Ulster, in the second row.
Eoin McKeon has recovered from injury to take his place at number 8 in a back row with flankers John Muldoon and Willie Faloon.
Commenting on the team selection and his side’s third successive interprovincial tie, Pat Lam said: “I’ve always said that it is so important that we are comfortable adapting our style of play to suit the different conditions and opposition over a long season.
“On Thursday we face a very direct and physical Munster side with an excellent kicking game. They are undefeated in the interpro games, going back-to-back against Leinster and beating Ulster. Axel (Anthony Foley) is doing a terrific job in in his first season as head coach and in their performances I have seen the uncompromising, tough and direct style that he was renowned for when I played against him.
“The changes to our own team reflect the game-plan we have devised to try and combat the big challenge ahead.
“Having the physicality of Craig, Robbie and Bundee in the front line will be key to our defence on Thursday. And the selection of the back three of Mils, Darragh and Danie is directly linked to the quality of Munster’s aerial threat and the tough weather conditions expected.
“It’s been six years since we’ve beaten Munster and only once in the last 41 meetings. We know how big a test this is. It’s going to be a very special atmosphere at a sold-out Sportsground and like our supporters, we are all massively excited for this game.”
CONNACHT (v Munster): Mils Muliaina; Darragh Leader, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Danie Poolman; Craig Ronaldson, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You, Quinn Roux, Aly Muldowney, John Muldoon (capt), Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, JP Cooney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, George Naoupu, John Cooney, Miah Nikora, Dave McSharry.