South African centre Jaco Taute will captain the Munster team in Friday’s GUINNESS PRO14 derby clash with Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm).
Head coach Johann van Graan has made 13 changes to the side that lost by a single point to Castres Olympique in the Heineken Champions Cup. Jaco Taute captains the province for the first time from inside centre.
Mike Haley keeps his place at full-back for the trip to Belfast, with Darren Sweetnam returning from a back injury sustained on international duty last month to start on the right wing and Alex Wootton featuring on the opposite flank.
Recent Ireland debutant Sam Arnold retains the number 13 jersey and partners Taute in midfield, with JJ Hanrahan, who scored 20 points in a man-of-the-match performance at home to Castres, and Alby Mathewson team up as the starting half-backs.
Jeremy Loughman, who recently penned a one-year contract extension, Kevin O’Byrne and Stephen Archer pack down together in the front row, while Jean Kleyn makes a welcome return from thumb surgery to partner Darren O’Shea in the engine room.
Conor Oliver, who got some game-time with Garryowen in recent weeks, makes his first start of the campaign having missed the early stages of the season with a foot injury. He is joined in the back row by Fineen Wycherley and Arno Botha.
Meanwhile, fit-again back rower Tommy O’Donnell takes his place among the replacements, with van Graan’s bench options also including Academy players Gavin Coombes, who turned 21 last week, and Shane Daly who is poised to make his fifth appearance of the season.
Returning lock Kleyn is looking forward to the first of Munster’s festive derbies, saying: “Ulster are in flying form, they have been operating very well in their set piece and it has been working very well and their attack has been working very well as well.
“Obviously we have been doing a review on them and we will try to exploit some of the weaknesses we feel we see in their game, try to plug the holes we see in our own defence where we feel they might attack us and, yeah, it’s going to be a tough challenge.
“If we can go up there and get a victory we will be rolling into a good week going to the Leinster game and then once again it’s Connacht. We are a few points behind Glasgow in the table at the minute so we want to be collecting as many points as we can and hopefully top the table by the end of the season.”
Kiwi half-back Mathewson, who made his Munster debut in September’s record 64-7 win over Ulster in Limerick, commented: “We had a really good day (against Ulster) at Thomond Park when everything went well. Ulster have obviously improved a lot since then with two good wins over the last couple of weeks against the Scarlets who are a quality team.
“They have many good players across the board and play an attacking brand. I remember Dwayne Peel from my time at Bristol and he is a very good attacking coach. And being away, it’s going to be a lot tougher.”
MUNSTER (v Ulster): Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Jaco Taute (capt), Alex Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, Alby Mathewson; Jeremy Loughman, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Darren O’Shea; Fineen Wycherley, Conor Oliver, Arno Botha.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne, Ciaran Parker, Gavin Coombes, Tommy O’Donnell, Neil Cronin, Bill Johnston, Shane Daly.