A late try from Ivan Dineen sealed a 16-6 win for Munster when these sides met at Ravenhill in October. But Ulster, despite a poor record this season against Irish opposition, seem well-placed to trouble the hosts in tonight’s much-anticipated clash at Thomond Park.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, January 1
MUNSTER (1st) v ULSTER (6th), Thomond Park, 7.30pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTE Two)
Team News: Jerry Flannery is set to make his comeback for Munster off the replacements bench during their Magners League derby match against Ulster at Thomond Park on Saturday.
Munster head coach Tony McGahan has made seven changes in personnel and two positional switches for the visit of Ulster to Limerick.
That means only six players – Denis Hurley, Peter Stringer, Wian du Preez, Peter Borlase, Ian Nagle and Niall Ronan – will start the game in the same numbered jersey they wore in last Monday’s 16-12 win at Connacht.
Hurley is joined by Scott Deasy and Doug Howlett in the back-three, with Keith Earls and Sam Tuitupou resuming their centre partnership.
Ronan O’Gara is unavailable as part of the IRFU Player Welfare Programme, so Paul Warwick moves from full-back to out-half.
With Alan Quinlan (elbow), James Coughlan (cheekbone), Dave Ryan (shoulder) and Peter O’Mahony (neck) all injured and Donncha O’Callaghan and David Wallace working with the Irish management this week, there are further changes up front for Munster.
Damien Varley, Mick O’Driscoll and stand-in captain Denis Leamy are restored to the starting line-up, with Donnacha Ryan moving to the back row to cover for the injured Quinlan.
Flannery has overcome a troublesome calf injury to take his place on the bench. His last appearance for Munster was as a replacement in the Heineken Cup win over Toulon in October.
Speaking on Thursday, McGahan said: “Without a doubt we’d like to see Jerry hit the ground as soon as possible. He ran through 40 minutes on Tuesday with Shannon and he’s with the Ireland camp today so we’ll see how he showed up and make a decision on whether he can be involved.
“Jerry’s a super professional, he’s extremely driven both for himself and also for Munster and what they can achieve.
“He’s certainly a driving force behind the forward pack, through the set piece and the work-rate that he brings to the game.
“He’s a real ‘follow me’ type of player and over the last few years he’s added to his leadership credentials within the group.”
Munster’s preparations for the Ulster game were completed at Cork IT on Thursday – but without the starting trio of Stringer, O’Driscoll and Leamy, who were all involved in a national camp in Dublin. Tomas O’Leary and Tony Buckley, who are on the province’s bench this weekend, were also in the capital.
Meanwhile, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli and Robbie Diack are the only survivors as Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin makes twelve changes in personnel for the interprovincial derby against Munster.
The most notable change sees regular captain Rory Best making his return from injury at hooker. Best fractured his cheekbone during Ireland’s defeat to New Zealand in November, and is back in provincial action ahead of a busy New Year period.
He slots into an almost entirely new starting pack from the one that lined out in last Monday’s 30-13 loss to Leinster at Ravenhill.
Best, Bryan Young and Declan Fitzpatrick form the front row, Tim Barker and Ryan Caldwell link up in the second row and South African Diack is joined in the back row by Thomas Anderson and Willie Faloon.
Ireland international Paddy Wallace gets some more game-time at out-half, with Paul Marshall replacing Ruan Pienaar at scrum half.
Jamie Smith and Tommy Seymour join Danielli in a new-look back-three, while the 19-year-old Luke Marshall will make his first Magners League start at centre.
Another teenager and Ireland Under-20 hopeful, out-half Paddy Jackson, is poised to make his senior bow for Ulster off the bench.
MUNSTER: Scott Deasy; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Sam Tuitupou, Denis Hurley; Paul Warwick, Peter Stringer; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Peter Borlase, Ian Nagle, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Jerry Flannery, Darragh Hurley, Tony Buckley, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Tomas O’Leary, Lifeimi Mafi, Barry Murphy.
ULSTER: Jamie Smith; Tommy Seymour, Ian Whitten, Luke Marshall, Simon Danielli; Paddy Wallace, Paul Marshall; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Tim Barker, Ryan Caldwell, Thomas Anderson, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Tom Court, BJ Botha, Neil McComb, Chris Henry, Ian Porter, Paddy Jackson, David McIlwaine.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Alan Rogan, Kevin Beggs (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/7; Draw: 25/1; Ulster to win: 4/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Tony McGahan (Munster) – “Ulster have built their game around a really strong forward pack and with the South African influence they have there, plus the local players, they have a very direct style of play.
“They have a very confrontational forward pack and I’m sure that will be the vehicle for them to come down and work to get a result.
“They did just that two years ago and it’s still really fresh in our memories. That’s what they’ve built on, that’s what they did to us that night and so we know what’s in front of us. It’s up to us to impose ourselves on the game.
“That 2009 defeat) will be a very strong reminder of what can happen if we don’t turn up at home and leave any opposition get a foothold inside the game.
“We’re used to winning on the road, we know what it does and all sides possess that ability if you give them enough chances. We’re certainly aware of that and the recent history that they’ve provided.”
Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “The game against Leinster was a huge disappointment to us all, we prepared well for it but on the day Leinster were just more hungry than we were.
“I think, mentally, we were just off the money. We had just come through four really tough games where we had four very good performances and four very good victories.
“We’ve talked about our consistency, we’ve talked about what went wrong mentally and physically and we have to make sure we put it to bed now and we’re looking forward to the Munster game.
“Coming away this season, we know we have the Heineken Cup in our own hands as far as the pool is concerned and we were looking forward to getting back into Magners league contention but unfortunately on the day against Leinster, it just didn’t happen for us.
“You get days like that, you try to minimise them and try to make sure they don’t happen too often but it was one of those days.
“We have to go down there (to Thomond Park) with confidence that we had two years ago. We’ve got to go with no fear and play to our potential.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 90; Tries: Niall Ronan 3; Ulster – Points: Niall O’Connor 59; Tries: Craig Gilroy 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 – Ulster 19 Munster 9, Ravenhill
Saturday, October 25, 2008 – Ulster 22 Munster 6, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 3, 2009 – Munster 11 Ulster 37, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 31, 2009 – Munster 24 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, January 2, 2010 – Ulster 15 Munster 10, Ravenhill
Friday, October 29, 2010 – Ulster 6 Munster 16, Ravenhill
– Munster’s only defeat in their last half-a-dozen matches in the Magners League was a 20-6 loss at the Newport Gwent Dragons in round 9
– The Munstermen have a perfect played 8, won 8 record at home in all competitions this season
– Ulster’s four-match winning run in all competitions came to an end at home to Leinster last Monday. Ulster are the league’s second best away team this season, having secured 16 league points from their five trips so far
– The Ulstermen have not won any of their three games against their fellow Irish provinces so far this season
– Ulster have won four of their last six matches against Munster, and have an impressive won 3, lost 4 record in their last seven games on Munster soil