The battle to secure home advantage in the RaboDirect PRO12 play-offs is certainly hotting up with the Irish provinces leading the way. A win for Munster at home to Glasgow Warriors on Saturday would keep them on course in second place.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, April 12
MUNSTER (3rd) v GLASGOW WARRIORS (4th), Thomond Park, 6.30pm (live TG4/BBC ALBA)
Team News: Munster continue their challenge for a RaboDirect PRO12 spot when they welcome fourth-placed Glasgow Warriors to Thomond Park.
James Coughlan will captain the side this weekend in the absence of Peter O’Mahony, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season following reconstructive shoulder surgery.
Speaking after training on Thursday, Munster head coach Rob Penney spoke of the importance of O’Mahony’s involvement in team matters for the remainder of the campaign.
“Peter has an important role still to play, he will do some analysis for us and he’ll be supporting the group in behind the scenes with us coaches and the players, helping prepare for the games ahead,” he said.
“I spoke to him following the surgery and he was in a buoyant enough mood given the disappointment of the news.
“Peter is a pragmatic type person so he’s approaching it with a real view of getting himself right for the long-term.
“The surgeon said it was a great success, they had to do a little bit more than they thought, so hopefully now he can start into his rehab.
“I wouldn’t want to put a time on his return but it will be a protracted length of time and the key now is that he rehabs it well and doesn’t try to fix it too early.”
This weekend sees a total of seven personnel changes to the Munster side that started last Saturday against Toulouse in the Heineken Cup.
BJ Botha is the only front row member to remain in situ, and will pack down alongside Duncan Casey at hooker and John Ryan at loosehead prop. Both Casey and Ryan gained valuable Heineken Cup experience last weekend.
Paul O’Connell is rested this week so Munster’s most-capped player, Donncha O’Callaghan, joins David Foley in the second row to win cap number 247.
Following on from his man-of-the-match display against Toulouse, CJ Stander starts this week at blindside flanker with Sean Dougall returning at openside and stand-in captain Coughlan completing the back row at number 8.
JJ Hanrahan joins Conor Murray in the half-backs while the back-line sees Keith Earls move to outside centre in the absence of Casey Laulala, who continues to recuperate after sustaining a fractured bone in his right hand against Toulouse.
Gerhard van den Heever takes Earls’ position on the right wing, the South African flyer hoping to add to his tally of two tries in six matches in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Munster also include a wealth of experience on a replacements bench that includes four of last weekend’s matchday 23.
Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors boss Gregor Townsend brings a strong squad to Limerick as they chase their first win in Limerick in eight years.
Peter Murchie keeps his place at full-back and is part of an all-Scottish back-three, with Sean Maitland continuing on the right wing and Tommy Seymour coming in for Niko Matawalu on the opposite flank.
After his man-of-the-match performance against Benetton Treviso last weekend, Finn Russell retains the number 12 jersey with Alex Dunbar replacing Mark Bennett at outside centre.
Duncan Weir comes in for Ruaridh Jackson at out-half and Chris Cusiter once again captains the side, after replacing Henry Pyrgos at scrum half.
Gordon Reid starts his fifth consecutive game at loosehead prop, with Dougie Hall replacing Pat MacArthur at hooker and Jon Welsh coming in for Geoff Cross at tighthead.
Tim Swinson links up with Jonny Gray in the engine room, with Al Kellock not involved this weekend.
Josh Strauss replaces Rob Harley at blindside flanker, Chris Fusaro comes in for Tyrone Holmes at openside and Ryan Wilson continues at number 8.
Pat MacArthur, Geoff Cross, Rob Harley and Henry Pyrgos are all included on the bench after starting against Treviso, while Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Leone Nakarawa, Peter Horne and Richie Vernon have also been named among the replacements.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Gerhard van den Heever, Keith Earls, James Downey, Simon Zebo; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; John Ryan, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, David Foley, CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan (capt).
Replacements: Quentin MacDonald, David Kilcoyne, Alan Cotter, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Johne Murphy.
GLASGOW WARRIORS: Peter Murchie; Sean Maitland, Alex Dunbar, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour; Duncan Weir, Chris Cusiter (capt); Gordon Reid, Dougie Hall, Jon Welsh, Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray, Josh Strauss, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Geoff Cross, Leone Nakarawa, Rob Harley, Henry Pyrgos, Peter Horne, Richie Vernon.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway, David Connolly (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/4; Draw: 22/1; Glasgow Warriors to win: 13/5
Pre-Match Quotes: JJ Hanrahan (Munster) – “The next eight weeks are very important for us and Glasgow is a massive game for us in terms of the PRO12. We want a home semi-final.
“Last year you had your internationals coming back and playing Heineken Cup and doing really well and you had the PRO12 side who let the team down a bit while the big boys were away.
“This year, at the start of the year, we said we’d put a big emphasis on that, we’re going to be strong on both sides of the board. The young fellas tried to drive on this year.
“And any time you get your opportunity you are trying to put the pressure on the fella in front of you.”
Gregor Townsend (Glasgow Warriors) – “Munster have been in excellent form this season and are now the sole representatives from the PRO12 in the Heineken Cup, so we’re under no illusions about the size of the task we face.
“Munster will be buoyed by their victory over Toulouse in the Heineken Cup quarter-final last weekend and the comprehensive nature of their win has underlined just what a tough place Thomond Park is to go and get a result, as we are all too well aware.
“A lot of our squad have put their hands up for selection this week and it was a difficult team selection with so many in-form players.
“We’re delighted to be heading to Limerick on the back of a three-game winning run, but we know there are areas we must improve if we’re to come away with a victory on Saturday night.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: JJ Hanrahan 136; Tries: Simon Zebo 4; Glasgow Warriors – Points: Duncan Weir 57; Tries: Niko Matawalu 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday. January 8, 2011 – Munster 22 Glasgow Warriors 20, Musgrave Park
Friday, September 9, 2011 – Glasgow Warriors 12 Munster 23, Firhill Stadium
Saturday, April 14, 2012 – Munster 35 Glasgow Warriors 29, Musgrave Park
Saturday, December 1, 2012 – Munster 31 Glasgow Warriors 3, Thomond Park
Friday, March 29, 2013 – Glasgow Warriors 51 Munster 24, Scotstoun Stadium
Friday, October 25, 2013 – Glasgow Warriors 6 Munster 13, Scotstoun Stadium
– Munster’s last three matches in the RaboDirect PRO12 have all been won by the home side on the day, while the Munstermen have won all 13 home games they have played in all competitions this season
– No Scottish side has won on Munster soil since the Warriors themselves won at Musgrave Park in May 2008
– Glasgow Warriors have won their last three matches, which have all been played at Scotstoun Stadium
– The Warriors have lost their last two away games since beating Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park in February. Glasgow have won on three of their last five visits to Ireland
– Glasgow have been victorious just once in their last eight fixtures with Munster: 51-24 at Scotstoun in March 2013, while their only previous victory at Thomond Park came on February 18, 2006