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Barron Captains Munster As Ahern Switches To Back Row

Barron Captains Munster As Ahern Switches To Back Row

Cashel man Diarmuid Barron is pictured running in a try for Munster against the Barbarians earlier in the season ©INPHO/James Crombie

Hooker Diarmuid Barron returns to captain the Munster team for Saturday’s BKT United Rugby Championship match against arch rivals Leinster at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 6.30pm).

Barron completed the return-to-play protocols having missed last week’s 10-3 win over the DHL Stormers, which came at a cost as Peter O’Mahony, who has stepped down as the province’s captain, and Jack O’Donoghue picked up shoulder and ankle injuries respectively.

In the absence of the pair, Tom Ahern will make his first ever start in the back row for Munster, while Jean Kleyn makes his seasonal debut in red having recently returned from winning the Rugby World Cup with South Africa.

Returning to the scene of last May’s thrilling 16-15 semi-final win over Leinster, head coach Graham Rowntree has made two personnel changes in the back-line, bringing in Simon Zebo at full-back and Rory Scannell at inside centre.

The sixth and final alteration sees veteran prop Stephen Archer starting at tighthead. He will become Munster’s most-capped player of all-time with his 269th appearance, surpassing Donncha O’Callaghan’s record that has stood since 2015.

It will be Zebo’s seasonal bow and his first start at full-back for Munster since 2018. He joins the in-form Calvin Nash and Shane Daly in the back-three, with Daly moving to the left wing berth which has been vacated by Shay McCarthy.

Antoine Frisch, Scannell, Jack Crowley and Craig Casey complete the defending champions’ starting back-line, as they look to follow up on last season’s semi-final success which was their first victory over Leinster at the Aviva Stadium since 2014.

Kleyn is reunited at lock with Tadhg Beirne, supporting the front row trio of Barron, Archer and Jeremy Loughman. Waterford youngster Ahern takes over from the injured O’Mahony in the back row, lining out alongside John Hodnett and Gavin Coombes.

On the bench, Dave Kilcoyne is set for his first appearance since returning from the World Cup. The selected replacements include three Academy players, Brian Gleeson, Tony Butler and the aforementioned McCarthy.

Scott Buckley, John Ryan and Alex Kendellen complete the forward cover, and Conor Murray is poised for more game-time in the impact role. His 21-minute cameo against the Stormers left their head coach John Dobson admitting that Murray’s kicking for contestable duels ‘destroyed us’.

Loosehead Loughman, who started against Ulster and the Stormers, commented: “It has a special feel, the (Leinster) week, you can feel coming in that everyone’s on edge. It’s a bit different.

“Everyone’s at each other, making sure we’re all perfect, we’re really pushing ourselves and they’re the weeks that you really look forward to, the big weeks, the big crowds. It will be a full house and the atmosphere will be class.

“So, really looking forward to it, they’re special games and they’re the ones you want to play in, especially when you grow up watching them.

“We’ll have a big target on our back and they’ll be looking for revenge up there, I know they all will be. It was kind of one of those wins we needed to get (last May), a monkey off the back.

“It just showed everyone how we were moving forward as a team and in terms of that rivalry, pushing ourselves as a better team and challenging for those big games.”

He added: “It’s massively exciting. It will be a proper match, a proper rivalry match, so I’m really looking forward to that. They’ll definitely be coming for us but we’ll be looking forward to it.”

MUNSTER (v Leinster); Simon Zebo; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron (capt), Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, Tom Ahern, John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Scott Buckley, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Brian Gleeson, Alex Kendellen, Conor Murray, Tony Butler, Shay McCarthy.