This is Munster’s second semi-final appearance of the season as they return to ‘cup final’ mentality, facing the in-form Glasgow Warriors who host their first ever play-off fixture at Scotstoun Stadium.
RABODIRECT PRO12 SEMI-FINAL: Friday, May 16
GLASGOW WARRIORS (2nd) v MUNSTER (3rd), Scotstoun Stadium, 7.35pm (live TG4/BBC ALBA/S4C/’Game On’ 2fm)
Team News: Munster head coach Rob Penney has named Damien Varley as captain for Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium.
Hooker Varley retains the captaincy in a team that sees four changes to the side that started against Ulster last weekend.
Following the birth of his baby daughter, BJ Botha returns at tighthead prop to join Varley and David Kilcoyne in the front row.
David Foley and Paul O’Connell remain in situ in the second row, as do Sean Dougall and James Coughlan in the back row with CJ Stander the only change at blindside flanker.
Conor Murray returns to the starting line-up to partner Ian Keatley at half-back, while Casey Laulala will earn his 50th cap for Munster when he lines out alongside James Downey in the centre.
The back-three sees winger Keith Earls make his first start since Munster’s Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Toulon, with Simon Zebo on the opposite wing and Felix Jones retains his place at full-back.
A speedy and successful rehab has meant that Andrew Conway returns to the matchday squad after sustaining a sprained toe against Edinburgh.
Meanwhile, Glasgow have been in the play-offs four times in the last five seasons, but this will be the first time that they have hosted a semi-final.
The first of the changes from last weekend’s bonus point win against Zebre sees Peter Murchie replacing Stuart Hogg at full-back. Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour come in on either wing, in place of Sean Lamont and Niko Matawalu.
Mark Bennett replaces Peter Horne at outside centre and forms a partnership with Alex Dunbar, while Finn Russell comes in at out-half for Duncan Weir and Chris Cusiter replaces Henry Pyrgos at scrum half.
In the pack Ryan Grant continues at loosehead prop, while Dougie Hall comes in for Pat MacArthur at hooker and Jon Welsh replaces Moray Low at tighthead.
After being named the RaboDirect PRO12 Young Player of the Year last weekend, Jonny Gray replaces Tim Swinson and lines up alongside captain Al Kellock in the second row.
Rob Harley replaces James Eddie at blindside flanker, Josh Strauss comes in for Leone Nakarawa at number 8 and Chris Fusaro continues on the openside.
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GLASGOW WARRIORS: Peter Murchie; Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Chris Cusiter; Ryan Grant, Dougie Hall, Jon Welsh, Jonny Gray, Al Kellock (capt), Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro, Josh Strauss.
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Gordon Reid, Geoff Cross, Tim Swinson, Leone Nakarawa, Niko Matawalu, Ruaridh Jackson, Sean Lamont.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley (capt), BJ Botha, David Foley, Paul O’Connell, CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Quentin MacDonald, James Cronin, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Andrew Conway.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Giuseppe Vivarini, Stefano Penne (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Glasgow Warriors to win: 8/11; Draw: 22/1; Munster to win: 11/10
Pre-Match Quotes: David Foley (Munster) – “It was never a question of complacency, I just think we didn’t play the conditions well (against Ulster), and if we go over to Glasgow and repeat the same unforced errors then we may as well not show up.
“Thomond Park has historically always been a tough place to come and win, but to be honest I’m not really sure that it has been this season. From our point of view that’s a difficult pill to swallow.
“If we don’t win in Glasgow we don’t have another match this season so it’s been ‘cup final’ mentality all week.
“I think it (Ulster) was probably the poorest performance from me this year at the breakdown. I didn’t always get my man at the breakdown and one or two got past me.
“Those basics have always been the starting point of my game and something I’ve always focused on and to not do them was incredibly disappointing for me.
“I’m really angry with myself over that. Both I and the team need to play really well this weekend to do ourselves justice and to be in with a chance.
“We expect a tough physical battle up front (from Glasgow), that’s always where the battle is won or lost, with the likes of Al Kellock leading from the front.”
Gregor Townsend (Glasgow Warriors) – “On Friday night we will be doing all we can to make our first ever final. To be going into the play-offs by setting a new club record of eight wins in succession is very pleasing and we have built up some great momentum over the past couple of months.
“Munster challenge you in a number of areas and will come here with the experience of being involved in these big occasions. They also beat us here in October so we’re well aware of the task we face on Friday.
“They are one of the top teams in Europe and had a fantastic run to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup.
“For the first time in the play-offs we are playing at home and it looks like we’ll have a capacity crowd at Scotstoun. Every player selected is determined to put in a performance to make our supporters proud.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Glasgow Warriors – Points: Finn Russell 78; Tries: Niko Matawalu 7; Munster – Points: JJ Hanrahan 152; Tries: Simon Zebo, CJ Stander, Andrew Conway 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, April 12, 2014 – Munster 5 Glasgow Warriors 22, Thomond Park
– Glasgow Warriors have reached the play-offs for the third successive season. In fact there have only been five seasons of play-offs and the Warriors have been in them four times, but this will be their first home tie
– The Warriors have won their last eight RaboDirect PRO12 matches, their best ever sequence in the history of the league
– Glasgow have also won their last seven contests at Scotstoun Stadium since Toulon beat them there in the Heineken Cup on January 18
– Glasgow have been defeated in all five semi-final matches they have played in all competitions
– Munster have also reached the play-offs in four of the last five years, but their only victory in those contests was when they beat the Ospreys 18-11 at Thomond Park in 2011 (this represents Munster’s only victory at the last-four stage of any competition in their last eight attempts)
– The Munstermen have won just two of their last five PRO12 fixtures but one of those was in Scotland, against Edinburgh at Meggetland