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Young Guns Lead Munster Back-Line For Connacht Clash

Young Guns Lead Munster Back-Line For Connacht Clash

Tipperary youngster Ben Healy will don the number 10 jersey for Munster's derby date with Connacht ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

With a win securing their place in this month’s final, Munster have selected a strong team for Friday’s Guinness PRO14 derby game against Connacht at Thomond Park (kick-off 7.35pm).

Stephen Archer starts on his 224th appearance for the province, overtaking Marcus Horan to move into fifth place on Munster’s all-time caps list.

There are eight changes to the side that won away to Cardiff Blues last week, with Billy Holland, who announced his impending retirement this week, returning to captain the Conference B leaders.

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Greencore Munster Rugby Academy out-half Ben Healy comes into the starting XV alongside new Ireland cap Craig Casey, the 21-year-olds reuniting to form an exciting half-back partnership.

Full-back Mike Haley is joined by Andrew Conway and Shane Daly in the back-three, while Rory Scannell moves to inside centre with the strong-running Chris Farrell outside him.

James Cronin, Niall Scannell, the scorer of that late match-winning try against the Blues, and Archer pack down together in the front row, ably supported by Fineen Wycherley and Holland from the engine room.

Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete and Gavin Coombes, Munster’s leading try scorer this season with eight scores so far – make up the back row.

Joey Carbery is again named among the replacements having made his return from long-term injury off the bench at Cardiff Arms Park last Friday.

Head coach Johann van Graan commented: “We’ve had a lot of very close games and we, as a group, see that as a big positive in that good teams win close games and we’ve managed to do that.

“Winning in a lot of different ways against a lot of very good teams in a very tightly-contested pool. We’ll always take an ugly win instead of a brilliant performance and losing the game.

“All credit to Connacht, they’ve won their last five games away from home. They’ve played some brilliant rugby and I think the game from them that stands out for me this season is away to Racing (Metro), where they came very close to beating them there.

“They’ve upped their physicality a lot, they’ve got very good structure and they’ve got a very well-settled coaching team. Obviously they’re nine point behind us, we had a pretty close game at the start of the year (in Galway), and I’m sure this one will be the same.

“We are fighting to get into a final and so are they. We’ve got three rounds left and whenever you play someone in your pool, it’s a big swing – if we win, it progresses us to the next stage. If they win, there will be a very small gap with two rounds to go.

“A lot to play for for both teams. To to fair to Irish Rugby, all four provinces have had a brilliant season up to date, and from an Irish perspective, two brilliant interpros to look forward to on Friday and Saturday.”

MUNSTER (v Connacht): Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly; Ben Healy, Craig Casey; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Jack O’Sullivan, Nick McCarthy, Joey Carbery, Damian de Allende.