The sold-out signs are up at Thomond Park for the much-anticipated St. Stephen’s Day showdown between Munster and Leinster, as Anthony Foley’s men look to complete a season’s double over their arch rivals.
GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, December 26
MUNSTER (3rd) v LEINSTER (4th), Thomond Park, 5pm (live TG4/BBC ALBA)
Team News: Munster head coach Anthony Foley has named his team for the sold-out St. Stephen’s Day clash with Leinster at Thomond Park. He has made eight changes to the side that lost to Glasgow Warriors.
The returning trio of Duncan Casey, CJ Stander and Tommy O’Donnell all start this week, with hooker Casey joining John Ryan and Stephen Archer in the front row.
Munster’s most-capped player, Donncha O’Callaghan, is promoted from the bench and starts next to Billy Holland in the second row, while Robin Copeland retains his starting place at number 8 in a back row completed by Stander and O’Donnell.
Duncan Williams and Ian Keatley renew their half-back pairing as fellow backs Denis Hurley, Pat Howard and Andrew Conway are retained. Ronan O’Mahony comes in on the left wing and Felix Jones starts at full-back as he captains the side for the third time.
Among the replacements, Garryowen scrum half Neil Cronin is included in his second PRO12 matchday squad and is in line to make his debut if sprung from the bench.
Those not available for selection this week through the national player management programme included Paul O’Connell, the province’s regular captain Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo.
Meanwhile, Richardt Strauss will join the Leinster Rugby centurion club as he pulls on the jersey for the 100th time since making his debut in February 2010 against the Scarlets. Strauss is one of six changes in personnel announced by head coach Matt O’Connor, who has also made some positional switches.
Michael Bent and Tadhg Furlong complete the front row with hooker Strauss, but Mike McCarthy will lock down behind the trio with Australian international Kane Douglas beside him in the second row.
In the back row, with Kevin McLaughlin out injured, Dominic Ryan comes in for his 11th start in 12 games so far this season.
Shane Jennings has shown no ill-effects from the game last week against Connacht, his first since injuring his hamstring against the same opposition in September, and captains the side from openside flanker. Jack Conan completes the back row.
There are two personnel changes in the backs with Darragh Fanning and Gordon D’Arcy coming in from the start. Zane Kirchner moves to full-back in place of Rob Kearney, with the latter’s younger brother Dave continuing on the left wing.
Wexford man D’Arcy comes straight back in at inside centre with fellow international Luke Fitzgerald continuing in the number 13 jersey outside him.
Ian Madigan, who is selected at half-back alongside Isaac Boss, will wear the number 10 shirt for the first time since his man-of-the-match performance away to Zebre in October.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones (capt); Andrew Conway, Pat Howard, Denis Hurley, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Duncan Casey, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, CJ Stander, Tommy O’Donnell, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Eusebio Guinazu, BJ Botha, Dave O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Neil Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, Johne Murphy.
LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner; Darragh Fanning, Luke Fitzgerald, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss; Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss, Tadhg Furlong, Mike McCarthy, Kane Douglas, Dominic Ryan, Shane Jennings (capt), Jack Conan.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Maks van Dyk, Jamie Hagan, Tom Denton, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Jimmy Gopperth, Noel Reid.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Stuart Gaffikin (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Pre-Match Quotes: Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster) – “It’s one of those special matches. With the time of the year, some people might say the poor players having to play over Christmas, but I think it’s great – full house in Thomond, fellas with their friends and family around them, people coming home for Christmas and heading to the game – it will be electric.
“It’s part of why Munster is special, playing in front of the crowd you love with people you care about and the performance has got to reflect that.
“I think we’ve played in fits and spurts recently but we haven’t put together an 80-minute performance for a while and that’s what we need to do, because if you don’t, with the quality Leinster have, you’d be in for a long day at the office.
“Frustrating is the best way to put our recent performances. When you are winning you bounce along and moods are higher in the camp. It’s been a tough few weeks, but we are lucky at the same time, we have a good honest dressing room and we’re lucky in the coaches we have.
“The coaching team are excellent in setting out what we need to do to achieve results and that’s where it comes down to the players taking ownership – we’re at the point where we need to take ownership that bit more.”
Shane Jennings (Leinster) – “The last time we played Munster in the Aviva in October they beat us up. They had a 20 or 30-minute period where they dominated us and that was the winning of the game for them.
“Knowing Anthony Foley and the way the Munster guys play – it’s the old cliché and you have all heard it – but they’ve a massive pride when they play in Limerick and play for Munster. So, it’s going to be a big challenge for us and we are going to have to improve on what we did last week (against Connacht).
“I’m 33 so you take things for granted and it’s just another game, week in, week out. But when it’s taken away from you (through injury), and you are on the outside and you’re looking at lads playing, it sort of solidifies the thoughts in your head, that you enjoy it.
“You want to be back and you want to be involved. I’m coming to the end of my career, not that it’s going to be next year or this year, but there are not many years left. You actually go, ‘do you know what? I actually enjoy it and I want to be involved’.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 68; Tries: Simon Zebo, Robin Copeland 4 each; Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 86; Tries: Darragh Fanning, Ian Madigan, Dominic Ryan 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, March 31, 2012 – Munster 9 Leinster 18, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 6, 2012 – Leinster 30 Munster 21, Aviva Stadium
Saturday, April 13, 2013 – Munster 16 Leinster 22, Thomond Park
Sunday, October 5, 2013 – Munster 19 Leinster 15, Thomond Park
Saturday, March 29, 2014 – Munster 22 Leinster 18, Aviva Stadium
Saturday, October 4, 2014 – Leinster 23 Munster 34, Aviva Stadium
– Munster have slipped to three straight defeats in all competitions but have not lost four in a row since the end of the 2009/10 season
– The Munstermen have won both of their encounters with fellow Irish provinces this season
– Leinster’s only defeat in their last nine fixtures in all competitions was 24-18 at Harlequins in the European Champions Cup on December 7, while their most recent defeat in the GUINNESS PRO12 came when Munster visited the Aviva Stadium in early October
– The Leinstermen were defeated in their only previous away game against an Irish province this season: 10-9 to Connacht in Galway on September 19
– Munster are attempting to achieve a season’s double over Leinster in the PRO12 for the first time since 2008/09
– Leinster have won on four of their previous seven visits to Munster