Magners League leaders Munster venture to Ravenhill, a ground they have not won at since March 2007, for their final match before the November internationals. Hosts Ulster have lost away to Biarritz Olympique and Edinburgh in recent weeks, but a dose of home comfort could help them return to form.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, October 29
ULSTER (4th) v MUNSTER (1st), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/TG4)
Team News: Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named his starting line-up and replacements for Friday’s Magners League tussle with Munster.
With Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace both in camp with Ireland ahead of the November internationals, the Ulster back-line shows two changes of personnel to the one that started against Edinburgh last weekend.
Nevin Spence comes in at inside centre with Ian Whitten moving to the outside centre position, and Ian Humphreys rejoins Ruan Pienaar at half-back.
Up front Ulster are without the services of internationals Tom Court, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris. The selected pack shows five changes from the 21-16 loss at Murrayfield.
Nigel Brady replaces Best at hooker, and Bryan Young takes on the tighthead prop role as BJ Botha has aggravated the wrist injury which ruled him out of Ulster’s matches earlier this month against Glasgow Warriors and Aironi Rugby.
Tim Barker is preferred to Dan Tuohy in the second row, linking up with stand-in captain Johann Muller.
The rotation of back row players continues with Pedrie Wannenburg named on the blindside flank, Willie Faloon at openside and Robbie Diack retained at number 8.
Three uncapped players and club regulars – Jerry Cronin (Ballynahinch), Alan Whitten (Instonians) and Luke Marshall (Ballymena) – are hoping to be involved off the replacements bench.
Previewing the interprovincial showdown, out-half Humphreys said: “Obviously everybody wants to start the big games, and Munster at Ravenhill…it doesn’t get much bigger.
“Murrayfield was disappointing last week but that’s been put to bed and now we’re concentrating on making sure we get the four points on Friday night.
“Munster, they’re the benchmark of the kind of team we want to become. You know when you play them it’s going to be a tough game, it’s going to be very physical.
“It’s the kinda game that we probably need now. We weren’t a great side when we won all the games at the start (of the season), but we’re definitely not a poor side now after a couple of defeats.
“It’s a chance for us to get out in front of our fans and show them that we’re definitely up there to compete with the best and hopefully beat them.”
Meanwhile, Peter Stringer will win his 200th cap for Munster in Friday’s derby clash at Ravenhill.
The selected Munster team shows seven personnel changes and one positional switch to the side that started against Benetton Treviso last weekend.
Eight Academy or Development players are included in the matchday squad, with first starts going to centre Ivan Dineen, hooker Mike Sherry and lock Ian Nagle.
The back-three of Scott Deasy, Doug Howlett and Denis Hurley remain intact from the bonus point win over Treviso, with centre Johne Murphy and scrum half Stringer also retained.
Stringer will be hoping to crown his 200th competitive game for Munster with a win as the province look to stay at the top of the Magners League, ahead of the November internationals.
Dineen, a sub Academy player who secured a short term training contract recently, gets a chance to impress at inside centre, alongside the in-form Murphy.
Sherry, a try-scoring replacement against Treviso, and John Hayes have been drafted into the front row, with Cork Constitution duo Nagle and Billy Holland forming the second row partnership.
Niall Ronan takes over from David Wallace at openside flanker, in the final change made by head coach Tony McGahan.
Amongst the replacements, the fit-again Barry Murphy is poised to make his comeback from a series of frustrating injuries. If involved, it will be Murphy’s first appearance for Munster since starting against the Newport Gwent Dragons 13 months ago.
The 27-year-old centre/winger had a 40-minute runout for UL Bohemians in the All-Ireland League last Saturday, scoring an intercept try in their 19-9 home win over Lansdowne.
Looking forward to his fourth start of the current campaign, Munster number 8 James Coughlan said: “Ravenhill is always a difficult place to go. The last time we won up there was about three years ago. Anyone who goes up there finds it hard.
“Again I think it comes back to our set piece, our lineout, our scrum, doing the simple things right.
“If we can win the small battles as it were, then hopefully we are good enough on the night to get a result.”
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Mark McCrea, Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence, David McIlwaine; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Paddy McAllister, Nigel Brady, Bryan Young, Johann Muller (capt), Tim Barker, Pedrie Wannenburg, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Jerry Cronin, Alan Whitten, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Niall O’Connor, Luke Marshall.
MUNSTER: Scott Deasy; Doug Howlett (capt), Johne Murphy, Ivan Dineen, Denis Hurley; Paul Warwick, Peter Stringer; Wian du Preez, Mike Sherry, John Hayes, Billy Holland, Ian Nagle, Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Sean Henry, Darragh Hurley, Stephen Archer, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony, Duncan Williams, Barry Murphy, Simon Zebo.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Tony Redmond (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/7; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 11/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Robbie Diack (Ulster) – “We’ve come to half-time feeling so confident in the games (against Biarritz and Edinburgh) and then something has happened. I’m not sure what that is.
“Unfortunately we can’t pinpoint it; if we knew what it was then it wouldn’t happen. This week at Ravenhill we know that we have to put our two first 40-minute halves together and play for the full 80.
“Sometimes we accept mistakes in training and that can carry on into the game. This week we have not accepted mistakes.
“That has been a big focus for us. The coaches and the senior players have been hard on us and that has been good.
“We have been saying to ourselves that we can’t go on making mistakes. Eventually we have to learn from them. We have had a few very positive days in training this week, so now we have to wait and see what happens.
“Playing in front of the home crowd is a real motivation, so I’m really looking forward to facing Munster at Ravenhill on Friday.”
Shaun Payne (Munster) – “It has been particularly tough for Peter (Stringer), but he has been very resilient, very determined in training.
“He has kept his chin up during what must have been a tough time when it comes to selection, having been at the top and obviously having to deal with Tomas (O’Leary) and other guys on the Irish team.
“But he has played very well over the last couple of weeks and put himself right back into contention again on a national level as well.
“Obviously ‘Axel’ (Anthony Foley) was the first to get there (200 caps), ‘Quinny’ (Alan Quinlan) recently did it. If you look at the number of games he (Stringer) has been involved in, his numbers have been right up there and it’s clearly a very, very good achievement by any stretch of the imagination.
“I think he (Mike Sherry) took his try particularly well against Treviso and showed a very good turn of pace. His general ball carrying ability around the pitch was excellent.
“We are definitely very encouraged with his performance and what we’ve seen in training during the season as well.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Niall O’Connor 51; Tries: Darren Cave, Ian Whitten 2 each; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 68; Tries: Niall Ronan 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, March 22, 2008 – Munster 42 Ulster 6, Musgrave Park
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
– Ulster lost their unbeaten Magners League record with a 21-16 reversal in Edinburgh last Friday night
– The Ulstermen have won their last five games in all competitions at Ravenhill, since the Ospreys won there 38-27 last April. Ulster are unbeaten in their last three encounters with their fellow Irish provinces
– Munster continue to set the pace in the Magners League but have lost their last two away games in all competitions, at Leinster and London Irish
– The Munstermen’s only victory in their last five games against Irish opposition was an 18-12 triumph at Connacht last April
– Ulster have won four of their last five matches against Munster, who have not won at Ravenhill since March 2007