RaboDirect Pro12: Munster take on ‘Six Nations champions’ at The Aviva

RaboDirect Pro12: Gareth Llewellyn-Stevens previews Munster's clash against Leinster at The Aviva on Saturday

By Gareth Llewellyn

Ireland’s Six Nations-winning heroes will be on show for Saturday’s crunch RaboDirect Pro12 clash between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium.

Both provinces have rang the changes for the must-win top of the table clash, with centre duo Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy leading the Leinstermen returning to Matt O’Connor’s starting XV as the Dublin-based side look to consolidate their lead at the top.

Meanwhile, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony are among the 10 changes made by Munster head coach Rob Penney looking to do the double over their rivals for the first time in five years.

Full-back Rob Kearney comes back into the back into the Leinster three with Luke Fitzgerald keeping his pace on the left wing and Fergus McFadden switching from outside centre to the right wing with Leinster reverting to their world-class centre partnership, while Ian Madigan and Limerick-born Eoin Reddan continue at half-back.

O’Connor is without front-rowers Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore and Tadhg Furlong so Michael Bent and Richardt Strauss continuing at loosehead and hooker with Mike Ross back from international duty to pack down on the tighthead.

Devin Toner also returns to take his place in the second row alongside Mike McCarthy with captain Jamie Heaslip returning at number 8 and Shane Jennings promoted from the bench on the openside with Kevin McLaughlin retained on the blindside.

Munster, who could slip to third with a defeat if Ulster win in Cardiff, recall Simon Zebo to the left wing to win his 60th cap with Keith Earls and Felix Jones continuing on the right wing and full-back respectively, while Denis Hurley comes in at inside centre to partner Casey Laulala.

Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Tommy O’Donnell all return to the side after helping Ireland to the Six Nations Championship.

Ian Keatley, who was man of the match in when Munster were 19-15 winner against Leinster at Thomond Park in October, returns to partner Conor Murray in the half-backs and will reach 500 points if he can add three to his current tally.

Up front, props Dave Kilcoyne and BJ Botha join hooker Damien Varley in the front-row with O’Connell back after last week’s match with a shoulder niggle to partner Dave Foley in the second-row.

In the back row, O’Mahony returns on the blindside with Tommy O’Donnell on the openside and James Coughlan at number 8.

Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (captain).

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack O’Connell, Ed Byrne, Leo Cullen, Jordi Murphy; Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Zane Kirchner

Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha; Dave Foley, Paul O’ Connell; Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, Alan Cotter, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever.

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