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Magners Preview: Munster v Connacht

Magners Preview: Munster v Connacht

Munster have an opportunity to end the league phase on a high as they welcome provincial rivals Connacht to Thomond Park, just six days after their exit from the Amlin Challenge Cup. Tony McGahan will want a strong performance from his charges ahead of next week’s semi-finals.


MUNSTER (1st) v CONNACHT (9th), Thomond Park, 7.05pm (live RTE 2)

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Team News: Scrum half Tomas O’Leary will start for Munster in Friday’s Magners League derby match against Connacht at Thomond Park, making his first appearance for the province since January.

O’Leary will resume his half-back partnership with Ronan O’Gara who is just one of four players retained from the side that lined out against Harlequins last Saturday.

The three others are full-back Felix Jones and winger Doug Howlett, who both touched down against ‘Quins, and Denis Leamy who starts this time at number 8.

Danny Barnes will partner Johne Murphy at centre, while Simon Zebo takes over from Keith Earls on the left wing.

O’Gara, who will win his 206th Munster cap on Friday, was honoured at a Civic Reception in Cork City Hall on Thursday night to mark his contribution to a sport he was illuminated since making his senior debut for Munster back in August 1997.

Togging out with him against Connacht will be his colleague through all those years, flanker Alan Quinlan, who will be winning his 211th Munster cap.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has finalised his team and replacements for the round 22 tie with Munster.

The westerners are hoping to bounce back from their narrow defeat at the hands of Ulster at Ravenhill two weeks ago.

In one of their most successful seasons to date, Connacht have won seven league matches, drawn one and earned six losing bonus points to sit in ninth position with only this weekend’s interprovincial derby remaining.

The selected matchday squad has a blend of youth and experience with captain Johnny O’Connor, Brett Wilkinson John Muldoon, Gavin Duffy and Mike McCarthy joined by Academy graduates such as Dave Nolan, Eoin Griffin and Tiernan O’Halloran.

Frank Murphy starts at scrum half alongside the Munster-bound Ian Keatley who is just 15 points behind the Ospreys’ Dan Biggar in the Magners League scoring charts this season.

Galway youngster Griffin and Miah Nikora make up the centre partnership, with Fionn Carr, who has agreed to join Leinster, Brian Tuohy and Duffy starting once again in the back-three.

Connacht’s front row unit of Wilkinson, Sean Cronin and Jamie Hagan have all represented Ireland at senior or Wolfhounds level.

McCarthy and Bernie Upton will provide the grunt in the second row, while Andrew Browne, O’Connor and Muldoon join forces in the back row.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett, Johne Murphy, Danny Barnes, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Mike Sherry, John Hayes, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy.

Replacements: Damien Varley, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer, Ian Nagle, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter Stringer, Paul Warwick, Denis Hurley.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Brian Tuohy, Eoin Griffin, Miah Nikora, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Mike McCarthy, Bernie Upton, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor (capt), John Muldoon.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Dylan Rogers, Dave Nolan, Mike McComish, Cillian Willis, Troy Nathan, Tiernan O’Halloran.

Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/10; Draw: 30/1; Connacht to win: 11/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Paul O’Connell (Munster) – “I think we have a good strong squad and we are just not performing. You can get into the ins and outs of the age profile of the squad, but I think we still have excellent players who can still produce the goods.

“At the same time I think our Magners League form has been excellent. We have been really dogged in the Magners League and have played some good rugby.

“We have been good defensively and good in attack, but we just haven’t produced it on the big occasions and that is very frustrating for us and very frustrating for the supporters as well.

“It is probably magnified as well by how well Leinster are playing. They have a very young strong squad and it is tough for our supporters and us watching them being so successful.

“They are playing a really good brand of rugby and they are the team that we have to aspire to, they are playing at the standard we have to aspire to.

“I think we need a big performance (on Friday) to put us back on track. The Magners League becomes our main focus now and even more than that our next game is our next focus.

“Tony spoke about restoring our reputation a little bit after that performance (against Harlequins) and hopefully we get this shot against Connacht and another shot in the semi-finals and we’ll see what happens there.”

Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “(The loss to Ulster was) frustating and disappointing for the effort we put in. To leave Ravenhill with nothing was hard to take. Sport can be cruel, you don’t always get what you deserve.

“We knew the match was massive, and that we would be judged on that performance. I think we got the performance, but not the result.

“Even if had got a bonus point, it would have been a credit to the lads to get something out of the game going forward to Munster.

“Now we want the lads to finish strongly – we want them to finish with the same competitiveness and that 100% commitment. We don’t want to see them fizzle out, but to do justice to themselves and how they have performed all year, so we need another huge effort against Munster.”

Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 167; Tries: Doug Howlett 6; Connacht – Points: Ian Keatley 218; Tries: Fionn Carr 7


Friday, March 28, 2008 – Connacht 5 Munster 16, the Sportsground
Sunday, December 28, 2008 – Connacht 12 Munster 6, the Sportsground
Satuday, April 18, 2009 – Munster 25 Connacht 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, December 26, 2009 – Munster 35 Connacht 3, Thomond Park
Sunday, April 18, 2010 – Connacht 12 Munster 18, the Sportsground
Monday, December 27, 2010 – Connacht 12 Munster 16, the Sportsground


– Connacht have beaten Munster just once since 1986, winning 12-6 in Galway on December 28, 2008

– Munster have won their last seven matches in the Magners League and have already qualified for a home semi-final at Thomond Park

– Munster have won all 10 previous home games in the Magners League this season

– Connacht currently reside in ninth place in the league table and will be all out to try to obtain their best ever league finish

– Connacht’s only away win in the Magners League this season was a 19-17 success at Glasgow in round 3