As expected, Munster head coach Johann van Graan has named a much-changed team for the GUINNESS PRO14 derby match against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium on New Year’s Day (kick-off 5.35pm).
In making 11 changes to the side that suffered a 34-24 defeat to Leinster at Thomond Park four days ago, James Cronin, Niall Scannell and John Ryan start together in the front row for the first time this season.
Darren O’Shea joins Billy Holland in the second row with the ever-present Holland taking over the captaincy duties for his 16th successive start in this campaign. Tommy O’Donnell, who switches to blindside flanker, is the other forward retained with Chris Cloete returning to the openside berth and Jack O’Donoghue starting at number 8.
Keith Earls has recovered from illness to be named in the back-line and joins Sam Arnold in forming a new midfield pairing for the province. Arnold switches to inside centre this week and the returning Earls will line out outside him.
With Alex Wootton again on the left wing, Munster Academy starlet Calvin Nash starts on the opposite flank for his first start of the season, and full-back Simon Zebo completes the back-three. JJ Hanrahan, who comes in for his fourth start of the current campaign, and Duncan Williams form the half-back pairing.
Named among the replacements is winger Ronan O’Mahony who has successfully rehabbed the fractured fibula he sustained against Benetton Rugby last April. If sprung from the bench, prop Jeremy Loughman, who was previously capped with Leinster, will make his PRO14 debut for Munster in Belfast.
MUNSTER (v Ulster): Simon Zebo; Calvin Nash, Keith Earls, Sam Arnold, Alex Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Darren O’Shea, Billy Holland (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, Chris Cloete, Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Robin Copeland, James Hart, Bill Johnston, Ronan O’Mahony.