A home win over their European conquerors Ulster would be the ideal way for Munster to get back on course as they battle to hold onto their league crown. Thomond Park will witness another feisty derby with Ulster still harbouring slim hopes of reaching the play-offs.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, May 5
MUNSTER (3rd) v ULSTER (6th), Thomond Park, 7.30pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: In selecting the team for his final match at Thomond Park, Munster head coach Tony McGahan has made three changes – including one positional switch – for the visit of provincial rivals Ulster in round 22 of the RaboDirect PRO12.
The positional switch sees Johne Murphy reverting to the right wing to allow Ivan Dineen, a try scorer in the Munster ‘A’ side’s British & Irish Cup final success, come in to partner Lifeimi Mafi in the centre.
The only other change in personnel is in the front row where South African prop Wian du Preez replaces Dave Kilcoyne on the loosehead side of the scrum.
Dineen gets his chance as Keith Earls’ recovery from injury prevented him taking a full part in training this week. Earls has been named on the replacements bench along with fellow Ireland internationals Damien Varley, Donncha O’Callaghan and Tomas O’Leary.
It will be a last Thomond Park appearance for Mafi and O’Leary, both of whom depart these shores at the end of the season for pastures new.
The prize for a Munster win is a trip to the Liberty Stadium a week from now for a semi-final joust with tthe Ospreys.
Glasgow Warriors, who are at home to Connacht on Saturday, are odds on to provide table toppers Leinster with their semi-final opposition next week.
Meanwhile, Ulster boss Brian McLaughlin has made ten changes to the team for their latest derby encounter with Munster.
Ireland Under-20 star Iain Henderson will make his first senior start for Ulster when he lines out at blindside flanker in Limerick.
The 20-year-old made an impressive appearance as a second row replacement against Connacht last month. Phoenix Academy player Chris Cochrane has also been given a chance to impress with a start on the left wing.
With Ulster having only an outside chance of qualifying for the RaboDirect PRO12 play-offs, coupled with the Heineken Cup final being on the horizon, McLaughlin has decided to rest a raft of players.
Captain Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris are among those getting a well-earned weekend off.
Andrew Trimble, Paddy Jackson, Declan Fitzpatrick, Dan Tuohy and Willie Faloon are the only players who have been retained in the starting line-up from last weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final win over Edinburgh.
In the backs, Paul Marshall combines with Jackson at half-back, Ian Whitten and Nevin Spence come in to form the centre partnership and Adam D’Arcy lines out at full-back. Trimble and Cochrane will look to capitalise on opportunities from the wings.
Up front, Nigel Brady will captain the side from hooker and he is joined in the front row by young props Fitzpatrick and Paddy McAllister.
Lewis Stevenson replaces Muller in the second row to slot in alongside Tuohy, while Henderson and Faloon are joined by Robbie Diack in a new-look back row combination.
Chris Henry (ankle), Andi Kyriacou (shoulder/neck) and Neil McComb (neck) have been ruled out by injuries. Kyriacou’s injury means former Ireland Under-20 captain Niall Annett could have the opportunity to win his second cap from the bench.
The hooker is joined by Callum Black, Tom Court, Mike McComish and Ali Birch as cover for the forwards. Blane McIlroy has been named as scrum half replacement and the bench is completed by Ian Humphreys and Craig Gilroy.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Johne Murphy, Ivan Dineen, Lifeimi Mafi, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Mick O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell (capt), Donnacha Ryan, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony.
Replacements: Damien Varley, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Tomas O’Leary, Scott Deasy, Keith Earls.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Andrew Trimble, Nevin Spence, Ian Whitten, Chris Cochrane; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Paddy McAllister, Nigel Brady (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Niall Annett, Callum Black, Tom Court, Mike McComish, Ali Birch, Blane McIlroy, Ian Humphreys, Craig Gilroy.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, David Connolly (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/10; Draw: 30/1; Ulster to win: 5/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Paul O’Connell (Munster) – “It’s a game we want to win. It’s our last home game of the season. It was a frustrating weekend for us watching Ulster and Leinster playing in the Heineken Cup.
“We have trained really well this week and have prepared really well. There is a good buzz and excitement there and guys are looking forward to the weekend.
“Hopefully we will get a good performance. We have played a bit in fits and starts in the last few months. We haven’t really put a good 80-minute performance in so hopefully we will get that and it will set us up for the semis.
“We have a very strong squad and that’s why Ian Keatley is here. Guys are really enthusiastic to come in and make their mark and we have always said that when someone is injured, it is a great opportunity for someone else.
“It is part and parcel of the game that you will get injuries so you have to perform as a squad and I’m confident we can do that.”
Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “We are reliant on other results but we will approach the game trying to do our job and we will wait to hear other results coming through. Obviously the ideal outcome is to get a semi-final spot but we realise it’s unlikely.
“Iain (Henderson) had a great Six Nations campaign for the Ireland U-20s and it’s exciting for us to be able to have a look at him and see how he does.
“Chris (Cochrane) shone for us at the RDS (where he scored a try against Leinster) in December and we are looking forward to seeing him too.
“Andi Kyriacou’s neck problem has given Niall Annett a chance to show what he can do, he’s been very impressive for Belfast Harlequins this season, as has Blane (McIlroy) for Ballymena. It will be great experience for them and very important for their development.
“We have quite an exciting back-line – Spence, Whitten, Trimble, Marshall and D’Arcy are seasoned pros now. In the forwards, Dan (Tuohy) and Lewis (Stevenson) are experienced operators too, as are our front row. We also have some great options on the bench.
“Munster are always tough opponents, particularly at home. But the Heineken Cup quarter-final win down there proved that we can do it. We set the bar very high that day and I expect the boys to go out and defend our reputation.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 177; Tries: Simon Zebo 7; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 109; Tries: Darren Cave 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, January 3, 2009 – Munster 11 Ulster 37, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 31, 2009 – Munster 24 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, January 2, 2010 – Ulster 15 Munster 10, Ravenhill
Friday, October 29, 2010 – Ulster 6 Munster 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 1, 2011 – Munster 35 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
Friday, December 30, 2011 – Ulster 33 Munster 17, Ravenhill
– Munster’s only victory in their last four matches in all competitions was a 35-29 success at home to Glasgow Warriors on April 14
– Munster have lost their last two games at Thomond Park, an unprecedented sequence in the professional era. The Munstermen’s record against fellow Irish provinces this season is won 2, lost 4
– Heineken Cup finalists Ulster have slipped to back-to-back defeats in the RaboDirect PRO12, to Connacht and Leinster, and will not want to make it an unwanted hat-trick against all their provincial rivals
– Ulster have already won at Thomond Park this season, securing a 22-16 victory in a Heineken Cup quarter-final last month. They also beat Munster 33-17 at Ravenhill in round 12 of the league