Guinness PRO12: Munster vs Connacht Preview

Everything you need to know for this interpro clash as Munster and Connacht look to get back to winning ways

By Gareth Llewellyn

Kick-off and TV/Radio coverage

Satday 28 March 2015, Thomond Park, Limerick. Kick-off 17:15 GMT. Live TV coverage on Sky Sports 1.

Who’s the man with the whistle?

Welsh referee Leighton Hodges takes charge of his 49th PRO12 match, supported by Irish duo Mark Patton and Jonathan Peak. Kevin Beggs is the TMO.

What’s the team news?

Munster: Anthony Foley makes five changes from their last outing as a number of internationals return.

Tommy O’Donnell returns at openside in the only change to the backrow, with props John Ryan and Stephen Archer coming into the front row.

Australian centre Andrew Smith makes his first start since his return from injury, so Keith Earls move to the right wing and Felix Jones reverts to full-back, with Simon Zebo back from Ireland duty to complete the back three on the left wing.

Connacht: Pat Lam has made four changes from their last outing, which led to the Connacht boss being charged with misconduct by an independent PRO12 disciplinary committee.

Galway man Darragh Leader comes onto the right wing with Tiernan O’Halloran moving to full-back.

Scrum-half Kieran Marmion returns with Jack Carty starting alongside him at outside-half, so Craig Ronaldson moves to inside centre.

In the pack, Connacht Academy forward Eoghan Masterson comes in at openside flanker.

Just before the match Ronaldson was ruled out with an illness, so Conor Finn was promoted to inside centre with Niah Mikora taking his place on the bench.

What are the line-ups?

Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley (captain), Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Eusebio Guiñazú, Stephen Archer, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Duncan Casey, Dave Kilcoyne, BJ Botha, Paddy Butler, Jack O’Donoghue; Neil Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran; Darragh Leader, Danie Poolman, Conor Finn, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You, Mick Kearney, Aly Muldowney, John Muldoon (captain), Eoghan Masterson, George Naoupu

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Ronan Loughney, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, Eoin McKeon; John Cooney, Shane O’Leary, Miah Nikora.

What do the teams make of this match?

Munster head coach, Anthony Foley: “Connacht are sixth at the moment in the table. They’ve beat us up in the Sportsground over Christmas, so we understand how good they are.

“We understand where they are in the table and it’s important we go out and concentrate on ourselves, and make sure we bring out a big performance because we’ll need it.”

Connacht head coach, Pat Lam: “We are fully aware that Munster at Thomond Park is a big challenge, but we also have the self-belief that, if we focus on our game plan and work as a team, we can go down there and perform.

“It’s no secret that we’ve been hit with injuries, especially in certain positions, but what it has highlighted is the importance of team work within the squad.

“Younger guys like Eoghan [Masterson] can step up with ease to pick up the role and do their part for the team with confidence.

“Interpro games like this are always big occasions but, for us, there are four points up for grabs and, rather than get too caught up in the emotion of a derby game, we want to channel everything into a performance. We’re very much looking forward to it.”

What happened last time they met?

Connacht recorded an historic 24-16 win over their interpro rivals at the Sportsground on New Year’s Day after coming from 13-0 down after 30 minutes, with Kieran Marmion, Aly Muldowney and Craig Ronaldson getting the tries and Ronaldson, Darragh Leader and Miah Nikora adding nine points from the tee.

How did they get on last time out?

Munster: Another defeat on the road saw Munster lose 26-12 to rivals Ospreys with Welsh outside-half Sam Davies landing 18 points off the tee and a drop goal.

Connacht: Looking assured of a win while leading 17-11, Connacht were left stunned by an 87th-minute converted try for Cardiff Blues, which condemned them to an 18-17 defeat at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.

What do the bookies make of the match?

Our man Paddy Power is offering Munster at 1/7, Connacht at 4/1, the draw at 25/1.

Odds stated are correct at time of publication and subject to change.

Prediction

With Munster chasing a finish in the top two, and boosted by the return of a number of their Ireland internationals, it is difficult to see anything other than a comfortable home win for Anthony Foley. Munster win by at least two scores. A good day could see them get a try-scoring bonus point to keep pace with Ulster.

Anything I may have missed?

The two provinces have met 25 times. Munster have won 22 times to Connacht’s two, with a solitary draw.

Munster lost twice at home in September, to Edinburgh Rugby and the Ospreys, but have won their last five outings at Thomond Park and Irish Independent Park, including against Ulster, Leinster and Glasgow Warriors.

Connacht have won three of their nine games on the road so far this season, at Edinburgh, Benetton Treviso and Newport Gwent Dragons, but the last time they won four away in the same season was 10 years ago.

unster have lost just one home interpro since round one of the 2013/14 season, 19-17 to Ulster in the final round of the regular season last May.

Connacht defeated Munster 24-16 at the Sportsground in round 12, but they have never achieved a season double against them, and last won in Munster in 1986.

Munster outside-half Ian Keatley is second in the PRO12’s points race this season with 117 from his 11 appearances, while Craig Ronaldson is Connacht’s top points scorer with 61.

Referee Leighton Hodges was the man at the centre of the controversial end to Connacht’s last outing when he advised Lloyd Linton of a perceived infringement by the Irish province deep into the red zone, which led to a late converted try for Cardiff Blues, condemning Lam’s side to an 18-17 defeat at the Arms Park.

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