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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Munster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Munster

Munster only had four points to spare on both of their last two visits to the Sportsground, and would be a prized scalp for Connacht as the westerners bid to get back on the winning trail in the RaboDirect PRO12.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, December 22

CONNACHT (10th) v MUNSTER (5th), the Sportsground, 5.15pm (live TG4/Galway Bay FM)

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Team News: Connacht return to RaboDirect PRO12 action when they welcome provincial rivals Munster to the Sportsground on Saturday evening.

Head coach Eric Elwood has made two changes to the starting line-up as Connacht, who have won two of their last three interprovincial encounters, pursue a clean sweep of 2012 home victories over their fellow provinces.

The westerners’ back-line remains unchanged while up front Ronan Loughney makes way for Nathan White who captains the side at tighthead prop.

Versatile forward George Naoupu will start in the second row alongside Mike McCarthy.

Veteran lock Michael Swift and the 22-year-old centre Eoin Griffin have both returned from injury and are named on the bench for the derby clash.

Eoghan Grace, who has captained Connacht Eagles this season and scored a try in last weekend’s British & Irish Cup victory over Cross Keys, is also part of the matchday squad.

Meanwhile, James Coughlan will lead a much-changed Munster team when they line out against Connacht in a much-anticipated pre-Christmas clash.

Coughlan, who won his 100th cap against Saracens last Sunday, is just one of five players who have held onto their starting berths from the Heineken Cup round 4 fixture.

Stand-in captain Coughlan, centres Casey Laulala and James Downey, hooker Mike Sherry and second row Donncha O’Callaghan are the five survivors from the Vicarage Road defeat.

The experienced Peter Stringer and Johne Murphy earn recalls to the back-line with Stringer joining Ian Keatley, the province’s top scorer (68 points) in this season’s league, at half-back.

David Kilcoyne has recovered from a gastric bug to slot back in at loosehead prop, while Stephen Archer, Luke O’Dea and Paddy Butler, who were all used as replacements against Sarries, have been promoted to the starting line-up.

This weekend’s interprovincial derby also sees the return from injury of Denis Hurley at full-back and Tommy O’Donnell and Sean Dougall in the back row.

Dougall will start on the replacements bench after having a run-out against his old club Rotherham Titans in the British & Irish Cup last Friday.

CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Danie Poolman, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White (capt), George Naoupu, Mike McCarthy, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Eoghan Grace, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, Eoin Griffin.

MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Johne Murphy, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Luke O’Dea; Ian Keatley, Peter Stringer; David Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan (capt).

Replacements: Sean Henry, Wian du Preez, BJ Botha, David Foley, Sean Dougall, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Danny Barnes.

Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Simon McDowell (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 7/5; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 4/7

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We want to bounce back in this big derby match. When you play Munster you have to go toe to toe, and for us to do that we need to be able to choose from a near full squad.

“We know what is coming and what to expect so it’s a good fixture for us to get, especially at home.

“We are looking forward to improving again on our intensity levels from last week because when you are playing a powerhouse like Munster, you certainly need to match them physically and have a level of intensity to your game.”

Rob Penney (Munster) – “They are going to be a nightmare, Connacht have a group there with quite a lot of Heineken Cup experience now.

“They are not the new boys in the group, an inexperienced group of young fellas. They have had the same cohort together for a while, so they are a mature, tough group.”

Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 40; Tries: George Naoupu, Tiernan O’Halloran, Danie Poolman 2 each; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 68; Tries: Tommy O’Donnell 4


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
Friday, May 6, 2011 – Munster 22 Connacht 6, Thomond Park
Monday, December 26, 2011 – Munster 24 Connacht 9, Thomond Park
Saturday, March 24, 2012 – Connacht 16 Munster 20, the Sportsground


– Connacht have won just one of their last five RaboDirect PRO12 matches, 18-3 at home to Benetton Treviso on November 3

– Connacht have won two of their last three encounters with fellow Irish provinces, and are going for a clean sweep of victories against the three other provinces in Galway this season

– Munster have won three of their last four PRO12 games. Their only away victory since the opening weekend was 24-18 at the Cardiff Blues on November 2

– Munster have won just one of their last four games against fellow Irish provinces in the RaboDirect PRO12

– Connacht’s only win over Munster since 1986 was 12-6 at the Sportsground on December 28, 2008