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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Connacht

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Connacht

The curtain will come down on John Hayes’ remarkable 217-match career with Munster when they take on Connacht in Monday’s interprovincial derby at Thomond Park.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Monday, December 26

MUNSTER (3rd) v CONNACHT (10th), Thomond Park, 7.45pm (live TG4)

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Team News: For the RaboDirect PRO12 derby on Monday that will see John Hayes wear Munster red for the final time, head coach Tony McGahan has made 11 changes to his starting line-up from last weekend’s win over the Scarlets.

Just four players – Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Donncha O’Callaghan and Niall Ronan – remain in situ after the Scarlets game, while four more, namely Conor Murray, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell and Donnacha Ryan, are unavailable through the IRFU player management programme.

John Hayes will win his 217th Munster cap when he starts against Connacht alongside the other Munster front rower who has also reached the 200th cap mark, Marcus Horan.

The second row berths will be filled by Donncha O’Callaghan and stand-in captain Mick O’Driscoll, who are both in line to join the 200 cap club in due course.

The experience up front is contrasted by a youthful back-line where Sean Scanlon makes his senior debut at full-back and Luke O’Dea, who scored on his debut against Edinburgh last month, will feature on the right wing.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team and replacements to face Munster in Limerick.

Following Connacht’s excellent display against Gloucester in the Heineken Cup last weekend, Elwood has chosen not to tinker with the side too much, making just one enforced change.

Fetu’u Vainikolo replaces Mark McCrea on the right wing. McCrea was forced to retire against Gloucester with a strained hamstring, with the Tongan International now taking his place.

Connacht know that Thomond Park has not been a happy hunting ground for the team in recent years, but following spirited back-to-back displays against Gloucester the squad know that if they continue this rich vein of form that elusive win is just around the corner.

Connacht’s hugely experienced pack will scrum down with no fewer than 747 caps for the province between them, while the dynamic young back-line will be marshalled by captain Gavin Duffy from full-back.

MUNSTER: Sean Scanlon; Luke O’Dea, Keith Earls, Danny Barnes, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Denis Fogarty, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll (capt), Billy Holland, Niall Ronan, Paddy Butler.

Replacements: Sean Henry, Dave Kilcoyne, BJ Botha, Ian Nagle, James Coughlan, Duncan Williams, Scott Deasy, Tom Gleeson.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Fetu’u Vainikolo, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’Connor, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, George Naoupu, Mike McCarthy, David Gannon, Johnny O’Connor, John Muldoon.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Dylan Rogers, Rodney Ah You, Michael Kearney, Eoin McKeon, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, Kyle Tonetti.

Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: John Carvill, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/12; Draw: 30/1; Connacht to win: 6/1

Pre-Match Quotes: John Hayes (Munster) – “There is a certain amount of sadness that it is coming to an end after a very long run. There is a realisation that it is time to go, but I am just looking forward to it now in the last game. I am delighted that it is in Thomond.

“I am delighted to have had the career I did. A lot of things changed since I started, the game wasn’t even professional then and I have enjoyed it over the years, it has been brilliant.

“It was huge at the time (to go and play in Invercargill in New Zealand). I had only played two seasons when I went and to do two seasons back-to-back turned it around for me. It was in my first game down there that I changed to the front row.

“It is a 15-man game now. You have to be able to do all aspects of the game now. You really get found out in defence if you are not up to it.

“You cannot be one dimensional now, with the GPS systems they are measuring fellas with, and the distances that fellas are covering is going up each year.”

Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “Obviously Munster is going to be a huge, huge task for us. History tells us we haven’t won down there for a long time, and they are going very well.

“They are a good side, we know that. No matter what side goes out wearing the red jersey it’s going to be a difficult task.

“The key for us is that I want the lads to believe in what we are doing and take the positives from our performance against Gloucester.

“I did not have to say anything after that game, the players said it themselves – they were gutted. You have grown men crying and it’s a tough sight. Unfortunately the better team lost, but I thought our performance was magnificent.

“Our guys are learning every week to play in Europe, and hopefully these performances will stand to us.

“We have two derby matches against Munster and Leinster, and that is the next challenge. We are losing ball games, but it has not broken our spirit.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 92; Tries: Danny Barnes 4; Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 50; Tries: Gavin Duffy 3


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
Friday, May 6, 2011 – Munster 22 Connacht 6, Thomond Park


– Munster’s solitary defeat in their last six matches was a 19-13 loss at the Ospreys on December 3

– Munster’s only home loss this season was also to the Ospreys at Thomond Park on October 8. The Munstermen have lost just once at home against a fellow Irish province since January 2009

– Connacht have lost their last ten matches in all competitions since they beat the Newport Gwent Dragons 17-13 at the Sportsground on September 23

– Connacht’s sole away win this season was 11-9 in Treviso during the opening weekend of the RaboDirect PRO12

– Connacht’s only victory on a fellow Irish province’s soil in the history of the league is their 26-23 triumph over Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002

– Munster have won their last five encounters with Connacht, while Connacht have not won in Munster since an 11-9 victory at Thomond Park back in November 1986