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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Connacht

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Connacht

Munster and Connacht will begin the traditional post-Christmas interprovincial battles when they meet at Thomond Park tonight, with the hosts looking to extend their lead at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, December 27

MUNSTER (1st) v CONNACHT (11th), Thomond Park, 7.15pm (live TG4)

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Team News: Munster head coach Rob Penney continues with the squad rotation this week as JJ Hanrahan is the only survivor from last weekend to start in Friday night’s interprovincial derby match against Connacht at Thomond Park.

Last Saturday’s front row replacements, Niall Scannell and John Ryan, move in to the starting line-up to join James Cronin for the round 11 clash, with Scannell making his first start at this level after making his debut off the bench against the Scarlets.

Donncha O’Callaghan also slots back into the second row next to David Foley, while Paddy Butler marks his return from injury by donning the number 6 jersey, forming the back row with Sean Dougall and number 8 James Coughlan who captains the province for the second time this season.

Hanrahan is joined at half-back by Duncan Williams, with Gerry Hurley named in the replacements for the first time this season.

Cork Constitution clubman Hurley is in line to make a return to league action against the same opposition he last played against exactly six years ago.

Ronan O’Mahony, who scored a last-gasp match-winning try against the Scarlets, is named in a new-look back-line with Johne Murphy joining James Downey in the centre for the first time this season.

* In a late switch for the league leaders, Denis Hurley will start in the place of Felix Jones at full-back with Ivan Dineen included on the bench. Jones has been withdrawn as a precautionary measure with a neck spasm and is expected to return to full training next week.

Damien Varley, a late withdrawal from last weekend’s squad due to illness, has failed to recover in time for tonight’s derby and his place on the bench goes to Young Munster’s Ger Slattery.

Munster v Connacht tickets will be on sale on matchday from 9am from the mobile ticket office at Hassett’s Cross and from the West Stand ticket booth from 5.15pm.

Ticket prices: Cat A Stand €;40, Cat B Stand €;30, Cat B Junior Stand €;10, Terrace €;20, Junior Terrace €;7, Family Terrace Pack €;40 (two adults and two juniors). *Junior – Under 16 years.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made three changes to the side that beat the Newport Gwent Dragons in the last round of the competition.

Scrum half Frank Murphy will earn his 100th Connacht cap when he starts at scrum half. The Corkman joined Connacht in 2008 but missed out on last season due to injury. This fixture against Munster will represent his fourth game of the season.

Connacht’s leading try scorer Fionn Carr has been named on the right wing, while Gavin Duffy moves to full-back to allow Ireland international Robbie Henshaw switch to the centre.

In the pack, the front five remains unchanged from last weekend but the back row sees Andrew Browne promoted from the bench to start at blindside flanker, while John Muldoon moves to the openside berth.

Eoin McKeon makes up an all-Galway back row, wearing the number 8 jersey.

On the replacements bench, lock Aly Muldowney returns to the fray and the 20-year-old Academy back Darragh Leader has been brought in as cover.

MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Keith Earls, Johne Murphy, James Downey, Ronan O’Mahony; JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, David Foley, Paddy Butler, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan (capt).

Replacements: Ger Slattery, Alan Cotter, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, CJ Stander, Gerry Hurley, Johnny Holland, Ivan Dineen.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Frank Murphy; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, Craig Clarke (capt), Andrew Browne, John Muldoon, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: David Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Aly Muldowney, George Naoupu, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Darragh Leader.

Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Eanna O’Dowd (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Alan Rogan (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/8; Draw: 28/1; Connacht to win: 5/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Rob Penney (Munster) – “It’s always a difficult match, I remember vividly going to the Sportsground last year at this time and we squeaked a win on a wet day and I suspect it will be no different on Friday.

“If you underestimate them, they will sting you and that’s another challenge this week.

“We’ve picked up a couple of results this year that we struggled to get last year which is great and heading into a tough game, a local derby match, the Connacht lads would like nothing better than to come here and smack over Munster.

“It’s what the 15 guys on the track are thinking that’s the important thing so, as a management group, we’ll prepare the same.

“Our detail will be as diligent as it always is and the key thing is that the players embrace that and I think they’re getting a bit of confidence in knowing they can win the tight ones.”

Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Despite being boosted by the win last Saturday against the Dragons, we lost a couple of guys through that last game.

“It’s hugely disappointing to have to plan without Dave (McSharry), especially on the back of losing our other midfielders Danie (Poolman), Craig (Ronaldson) and Kyle (Tonetti) to injury.

“Kieran Marmion has had a high workload this season having played in every game and taking part in a two-day national camp earlier this week. So he is named on the bench for Friday’s game.

“We’re delighted for Frank to achieve his 100th Connacht cap, especially after such a long road to recovery last season.

“Jake (Heenan) joins Willie Faloon on the injured list which is another huge loss to a crucial position for us. But John (Muldoon) has shown in the past that he has the skillset and experience to switch sides in the back row.

“We’re really looking forward to the game. These interprovincial games are huge occasions and a source of great pride for the players.

“It’s a massive challenge as Munster are flying high at the top of the PRO12 table, they’re topping their own Heineken Cup pool and we haven’t beaten them down there since 1967!

“We have shown this season that if we go through the processes and bring heart to our game-plan, we can get the outcome we all want. That’s what we have to do on Friday.”

Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: JJ Hanrahan 79; Tries: James Cronin 3; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 57; Tries: Matt Healy 3


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
Saturday, March 23, 2013 – Munster 22 Connacht 0, Musgrave Park


– Munster retained top spot in the RaboDirect PRO12 courtesy of their last gasp 16-10 win over the Scarlets in Cork last Saturday

– The Munstermen have lost only one of their last eleven PRO12 fixtures: 29-19 in Treviso on September 20

– Munster have lost just once to a fellow Irish province in their last five such encounters, 22-16 at home to Leinster on April 13

– Connacht’s 14-11 victory over the Newport Gwent Dragons in Galway last Saturday snapped an eight-match losing streak in the PRO12

– Connacht have not won away from home in the league since they visited Edinburgh in April, while their only victory at the home of another Irish province in the history of the PRO12 remains 26-23 over Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002

– Munster have won their last nine fixtures with Connacht, while the westerners have beaten the Munstermen just once since 1986 (12-6 in Galway in December 2008)