Munster Rugby v Connacht Rugby – Preview & Starting Team News, Thomond Park, Limerick | Kick Off 19:35 | Live on eir Sport 1.
Connacht go into this crucial Conference B showdown on the back of three straight victories, but they will need to improve after being given an almighty scare by Benetton last week, when Bundee Aki’s late try avoided a shock defeat.
Munster have also won three in a row to leave them on the brink of booking their place in the final and have recent history on their side having won the last six meetings with Connacht.
They were 20-11 winners in Cardiff last weekend when Billy Holland came off the bench to become their second most-capped player, with the 35-year-old announcing on Tuesday he will retire at the end of the season.
There are eight changes to the Munster side that won in Cardiff last week with Billy Holland returning to captain the side.
Greencore Munster Rugby Academy out-half Ben Healy comes into the side alongside new Ireland cap Craig Casey with the 21-year-olds forming the half-back partnership.
Mike Haley starts at full-back with Andrew Conway and Shane Daly on either flank.
Rory Scannell moves to inside centre with Chris Farrell completing the midfield partnership.
James Cronin, Niall Scannell and Archer pack down in the front row with Fineen Wycherley and Holland in the engine room.
Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete and Munster’s leading try-scorer Gavin Coombes make up the back row.
Joey Carbery is again named among the replacements having made his return from long-term injury off the bench in Cardiff last week.
Bundee Aki is retained at centre following his release from Ireland duty last weekend, while Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane both start at hooker and second row respectively.
In all there are 7 changes from the side that secured a last-minute win at Benetton. Denis Buckley comes into an experienced front row with Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Gavin Thornbury in in the the second row alongside Dillane.
Conor Oliver starts at openside flanker to face his former club, joining captain Jarrad Butler and Paul Boyle to complete the pack.
There’s a new look half-back pairing of Caolin Blade and Jack Carty, while there are also new faces on the wings with Matt Healy and John Porch coming into the starting line-up. 12, 13 and 15 are unchanged from the Benetton win with Aki, Tom Daly and Tiernan O’Halloran all retained.
In all 9 of the starting 15 are Connacht centurions as the side look to extend an all-time club record of 5 straight wins away from home.
Head Coach Andy Friend says the importance of the fixture is not lost on the squad.
“We know exactly what we need to do tomorrow night in Limerick. There has been barely any talk of securing Champions Cup qualification because our first objective has always been 1st place in the Conference B, so all our focus since last weekend has been on getting a win that gives us that fighting chance of a final spot.”
Regarding his team selection, Friend added:
“Thankfully we haven’t picked up any major injury worries in our last two games so we’ve a pretty healthy squad apart from our long-term absentees. We’ve named a very experienced starting XV but we’ve made sure to also reward those who showed good form in our last few games. Overall we’re in a positive place and we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
- Munster Rugby have won their last three Guinness PRO14 fixtures since their 10-13 reversal at home to Leinster on 23 January. That defeat was the Munstermen’s first at home since Leinster also beat them at Thomond Park in December 2019.
- Connacht have won their last three Guinness PRO14 fixtures since their 20-26 home defeat to Ospreys in Round 8.
- Connacht’s most recent away defeat in the Championship was on a trip to Cardiff Blues on 10 October.
- Munster have won their last six fixtures against Connacht since Connacht’s 20-16 victory in Galway in October 2017 whilst Connacht’s only win on Munster’s soil since 1986 was at Thomond Park in November 2015.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly; Ben Healy, Craig Casey; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland (C); Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes. Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Jack O’Sullivan, Nick McCarthy, Joey Carbery, Damien de Allende.
Friday 5th March, Thomond Park, kick-off 7.35pm
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (189)
14. John Porch (33)
13. Tom Daly (40)
12. Bundee Aki (108)
11. Matt Healy (145)
10. Jack Carty (151)
9. Caolin Blade (124)
1. Denis Buckley (194)
2. Dave Heffernan (138)
3. Finlay Bealham (152)
4. Ultan Dillane (108)
5. Gavin Thornbury (52)
6. Jarrad Butler (68) (C)
7. Conor Oliver (14)
8. Paul Boyle (52)
16. Shane Delahunt (92)
17. Matthew Burke (19)
18. Jack Aungier (11)
19. Niall Murray (11)
20. Eoghan Masterson (104)
21. Kieran Marmion (178)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (4)
23. Alex Wootton (15)