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Kendellen Called Up For First Munster Start

Kendellen Called Up For First Munster Start

Former Ireland Under-20 captain Alex Kendellen celebrates after Munster's recent Heineken Champions Cup win over Castres Olympique ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

There are seven changes to the Munster team that defeated Castres Olympique as they begin the New Year with a trip to the Sportsground to face Connacht (kick-off 5.15pm).

20-year-old Greencore Munster Rugby Academy back rower Alex Kendellen makes his first Munster start.

It is just his fourth senior appearance for the province following his Heineken Champions Cup debut against Castres two weeks ago.

Stephen Archer, Gavin Coombes, Shane Daly, Mike Haley and Fineen Wycherley all start on their first appearances since October, with Craig Casey and Kendellen also coming into the starting XV.

Haley returns at full-back with Andrew Conway and Daly on either wing, Casey joins Ben Healy at half-back, and Chris Farrell and Damian de Allende continue their centre partnership.

Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and Archer pack down together in the front row, with Jean Kleyn and Wycherley in the engine room.

The back row combination of Waterford man O’Donoghue, Kendellen and Coombes completes the the province’s first starting XV of 2022.

Included among the replacements, Rory Scannell is in line to make his 150th appearance for his native province.

Speaking ahead of the interprovincial derby, Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham said: “We need to put up our hand there and say we didn’t play well (against Castres last time out).

“There were four or five opportunities out there and that wasn’t Castres’ best team at all. I would certainly look back at that game and say we were below par for a couple of reasons.

“You have to be careful with that Wasps game. There was a red card early. But where we came from, with the team we put out? That was a sensational performance.

“Was Castres a step down in terms of performance? Without doubt. We weren’t happy with that at all internally. But we’re constantly looking for growth and development.

“We’re all excited. We’re together as a group for the first time (since the Covid-19 disruptions). We’ll get a really good prep for a game against Connacht, with whom we’ve had a few ding-dong battles.

“They’ve been really close games. They’re playing exciting rugby, aggressive rugby, attractive rugby. And we’re trying to do the same.”

MUNSTER (v Connacht): Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; Ben Healy, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Donoghue (capt), Alex Kendellen, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Keynan Knox, Thomas Ahern, Jack Daly, Neil Cronin, Jack Crowley, Rory Scannell.