With only two changes to the team that mustered a famous comeback victory in Clermont Auvergne, Munster have strengthened their selection significantly for Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 derby match against Connacht at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.35pm).
Head coach Johann van Graan is looking for a big performance from his side as they look to cement their place at the top of Conference B and head back into European action in winning style.
Returning from an abdomen injury, James Cronin will make his 100th PRO14 appearance in the front row alongside Kevin O’Byrne and Stephen Archer.
The remainder of the starting XV is the same as the one which took to the pitch against Clermont last month, with Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne packing down together in the engine room.
Gavin Coombes, one of Munster’s most impressive performers so far this season, is restored to the blindside flanker berth, and the ever-influential pairing of captain Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander complete the back row.
Shane Daly, the only player to retain his position from last week’s 15-10 loss at Ulster, makes up the back-three with Mike Haley, who is set to draw within one of a half-century of Munster caps, and Keith Earls.
JJ Hanrahan, who landed five successful kicks in both of his last two outings against Connacht, comes back in to form the half-back tandem with Conor Murray, and Chris Farrell and Damian de Allende also renew their partnership in midfield.
There are two Greencore Academy players named among the replacements – Josh Wycherley and Ben Healy. Josh’s older brother, Fineen, is also on the bench and is primed to make his 50th Munster appearance.
Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham commented: “It’s a big game for us. Connacht played a good game against Leinster and they’re second in the table, so it’s massive.
“In our planning, we had earmarked this game as very important for us. We had planned for our guys to have a bit of a rest last week. We have an important run of games coming up but we don’t want to focus too far in front of the game this weekend.
“We felt the timing was right to rest the players last weekend. They were in pretty good form prior to that, their fitness levels are very good.
MUNSTER (v Connacht): Mike Haley; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (capt), CJ Stander.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Josh Wycherley, Keynan Knox, Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland, Nick McCarthy, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell.