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French Handed First Start As Munster Host Ulster

French Handed First Start As Munster Host Ulster

22-year-old Cork native Sean French features in the Munster XV to play Ulster this weekend ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The Munster team has been selected for Saturday’s United Rugby Championship derby match against Ulster at Thomond Park (kick-off 7.35pm).

There are seven changes to the side that lost to Connacht in Galway last week, with Rory Scannell starting at inside centre on his 150th appearance for the province.

Sean French makes his first start for Munster having made a try-scoring debut off the bench last year. The former Ireland Under-20 winger has featured for Cork Constitution this season.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, Simon Zebo, Jack Crowley, Thomas Ahern and John Hodnett also come into the starting XV.

Mike Haley starts at full-back with French and Zebo on either flank. Scannell and Chris Farrell, who has signed a new two-year contract, team up in midfield with Crowley and Craig Casey at half-back.

Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and Stephen Archer pack down together in the front row, Ahern and Fineen Wycherley line out in the engine room, and O’Mahony, Hodnett and Gavin Coombes complete the pack.

Zebo and Rory Scannell make their first appearances since October, while Josh Wycherley, John Ryan and Tadhg Beirne come into the matchday squad as replacements.

South African star Damian de Allende was unavailable for selection having picked up an abdominal injury during the week.

Speaking ahead of the interprovincial clash, Haley commented: “This weekend we have a massive challenge against Ulster and if you go into a game against Ulster still thinking about mishaps from the prior weekend it’s a recipe for disaster.

“That’s been parked, we’re looking forward to the game this weekend. We’ve got great leaders like Pete, everybody else who are pushing us firmly in that direction.

“It was a frustrating game for us (against Connacht), we didn’t perform. We just needed to hash a few things out, have a meeting and talk through some of the key points that arose from the game.

“You get that out of the way on a Monday and I think that’s been a good opportunity because the squad’s only been back together for a couple of weeks.

“If you get a performance like that early, it gives you a bit of a kick in the teeth and you have to get it right straight away.

“We’re looking at it potentially as a blessing in disguise, so we can put it to bed and move on.

“There’s no bigger challenge with Ulster, and the interpros with Leinster and Connacht and Ulster are all insanely tough games. There is no easy match there.”

MUNSTER (v Ulster): Mike Haley; Sean French, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Thomas Ahern, Fineen Wycherley, Peter O’Mahony (capt), John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Josh Wycherley, John Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Jack O’Donoghue, Neil Cronin, Ben Healy, Shane Daly.