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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Connacht

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Connacht

The return of Paul O’Connell to RaboDirect PRO12 rugby is sure to be a big draw at Musgrave Park tonight as the big Munster lock makes his comeback from injury against provincial rivals Connacht.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, March 23

MUNSTER (6th) v CONNACHT (9th), Musgrave Park, 5.45pm (live TG4)

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Team News: Munster have received a boost for Saturday’s interprovincial derby against Connacht at Musgrave Park, with the fit-again Paul O’Connell pencilled in to start in the second row alongside Donncha O’Callaghan.

O’Connell has been out of action at this level since October and subsequently underwent back surgery. He resumed playing with the Munster ‘A’ team last week and followed up with a full 80 minutes for Young Munster last Saturday.

Munster head coach Rob Penney has made just three changes to the side that drew with the Ospreys recently, all those coming up front and more specifically in the back five.

Not surprisingly O’Connell’s return forces Billy Holland back to the replacements bench and just as unsurprisingly O’Callaghan gets to partner him, while in the back row Sean Dougall returns to the starting line-up for the first time since the January encounter with Edinburgh.

The back-line remains the same as does the front row, while fit-again flanker Niall Ronan, who has been playing for Shannon in recent weeks, is included in the matchday squad for the first time since November.

Short just five frontline players – Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony and the injured pair of Keith Earls and Luke O’Dea – it is a selection that gives due cognisance to the challenge faced on Saturday and the importance of the game.

There is only one play-off place within Munster’s reach and they vie for that fourth spot with defending champions the Ospreys and Scarlets.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team to face Munster in the RaboDirect PRO12 derby tie in Cork.

For the westerners’ trip to Leeside, here are just two personnel changes to the team that beat Zebre in the last round of the competition.

In the back-line, David McSharry returns to the starting line-up for the first time since the Heineken Cup pool encounter with Zebre in mid-January. He partners Eoin Griffin in the centre.

Dan Parks, who has kicked 100 league points this season, is named in a half-back pairing with Connacht Academy graduate Kieran Marmion.

Robbie Henshaw starts at full-back in a back-three with skipper Gavin Duffy and this season’s leading try scorer Danie Poolman.

Up front, George Naoupu comes into the fray this week, joining Michael Kearney in the second row. Naoupu replaces Andrew Browne who moves to blindside flanker, while John Muldoon starts at number 8.

Ireland international Mike McCarthy is named in the matchday squad and is set to earn his 150th cap for Connacht should he be called upon on Saturday evening in Cork.

Connacht have won four of their last five RaboDirect PRO12 games including victories in their last three matches against the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Zebre. A win against Munster would make it four in-a-row for the first time since 2002.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett (capt), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Cathal Sheridan; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Mike Sherry, Wian du Preez, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Niall Ronan, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Ivan Dineen.

CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Danie Poolman, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Gavin Duffy (capt); Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, George Naoupu, Andrew Browne, Willie Faloon, John Muldoon.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Denis Buckley, Ronan Loughney, Mike McCarthy, Eoin McKeon, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, Fetu’u Vainikolo.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Michael Black, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/8; Draw: 25/1; Connacht to win: 5/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Billy Holland (Munster) – “Well, it is a hugely driven squad and we know we have let ourselves down up to now, there are a few guys particularly coming back from international duty with a point to prove and they have plenty left in the tank – their drive and passion for this squad is massive and hopefully we will see that this weekend.

“If you saw what ROG (Ronan O’Gara) has been doing training wise these last two weeks you wouldn’t be asking any questions – he has trained the house down.

“We had a few days off but ROG didn’t take one of them, he was in the gym Monday morning and then out running lengths of the pitch, so that is an answer in itself.

“ROG is the ultimate professional, he’s not going to take anything lying down, he loves a challenge and hopefully from our point of view that will get the best out of him.

“As I said, we’re not looking beyond Connacht and hopefully at Musgrave Park on Saturday evening we’ll see that.

“ROG and Paulie’s level of experience is phenomenal and maybe we lacked a little bit of experience over that last block (of matches), we probably just weren’t mentally right and that’s a shame but the two lads coming back certainly gives us a huge boost.

“They control things, they drive things, they have been for the last 10 years and any team in the world will benefit from a Ronan O’Gara and a Paul O’Connell coming back into it.

“Both of them are coming back extremely hungry and extremely motivated and with the benefit of being in great physical condition, Paulie is raring to go.

“At this stage of the season fellas might be getting a bit mentally tired but he is as fresh as you will ever seen him in March and ROG is, well, ROG, a hugely determined character.”

Willie Faloon (Connacht) – “After getting injured it was good to come back in, and we all just stepped it up. We focused on a couple of certain aspects and it was good to get them right. We hadn’t won on Welsh soil for a long time so the victory (over Cardiff) was important.

“All games on the road are hard, and we had only won one game away from home this year so far, against Zebre. It was a fantastic win.

“When you go on the road you can’t give away penalties, you have to be disciplined and I think we achieved that.

“Our last five games (of the season) will be tough but with these three away games we’ve to do exactly what we did against Cardiff. We have to keep our discipline, not give away penalties, just wait for chances to come and take them when they do.

“Whenever you play the table toppers you want to beat them, and whenever we are at home we are extremely confident so we’ll be looking forward to those games.

“I’d worked for Eric (Elwood) with the Ireland Wolfhounds so I knew he would be great to play for. There is a real hunger and desire (at Connacht) and it is very easy to play for a team who are hungry and want to play better.

“I think performance-wise it helps when you play every week. You then know what’s going to be happening and you get up to match speed.

“We are a developing squad. It’s helped that there have been steady improvements each year and we just want to keep it on track.”

Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 113; Tries: Tommy O’Donnell 4; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 100; Tries: Danie Poolman 5


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
Saturday, December 22, 2012 – Connacht 12 Munster 16, the Sportsground


– Munster are without a win in their last three RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures since beating Edinburgh 30-3 in Cork back in February

– That victory ended an unwanted run of two successive defeats at Musgrave Park to the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues

– The Munstermen have not welcomed a fellow Irish province to Musgrave Park since Ulster were the visitors in March 2008 and were repelled 42-6

– Connacht have won four of their last five PRO12 games including victories in their last three matches against the Ospreys, the Blues and Zebre. Connacht have only once before won four in-a-row in the league, in September 2002

– Connacht’s only away win in the competition against a fellow Irish province came when they visited Donnybrook in September 2002 and beat Leinster 26-23

– Munster’s only previous defeat to Connacht in the league was 12-6 at the Sportsground back in December 2008

– Connacht have not won on Munster soil since a trip to Thomond Park in the Interprovincial Championship in November 1986