Munster and Ulster ring the changes
MUNSTER coach Tony McGahan and his Ulster counterpart Brian McLaughlin have made a host of changes for tonight's Magners League clash at Thomond Park (7.30).
Donnacha Ryan starts at blindside flanker for Munster following injury to Alan Quinlan, as just six players are retained from the side that secured a hard-fought win in Galway last Monday. Paul Warwick comes in for the rested Ronan O'Gara at No 10, partnering Peter Stringer, while Sam Tuitupou and Keith Earls form a bludgeon and rapier midfield.
Scott Deasy, Doug Howlett and Denis Hurley bring physicality to the back three and young Ian Nagle gets the chance to build on his burgeoning reputation in the second-row next to Mick O'Driscoll.
No 8 Denis Leamy captains the side and he will know a much improved scrummaging performance is required after concerted difficulties against the Ospreys and Connacht. Peter Borlase gets another opportunity at tight-head prop, alongside hooker Damien Varley and loose-head Wian du Preez -- and Munster supporters will be relieved they are not going up against BJ Botha and the impressive Paddy McAllister.
Ulster were blown away by Leinster at Ravenhill and McLaughlin has overhauled his side, making 13 alterations, including a welcome return for Rory Best, who captains the side.
No 8 Robbie Diack and winger Simon Danielli are the only players to keep their places as Paddy Wallace starts at out-half with Ireland objectives in mind. Wallace and Danielli aside, it is a young backline -- Ian Whitten forming the midfield partnership with Academy player Luke Marshall with other youngsters Jamie Smith and Tommy Seymour at full-back and wing respectively.
Paul Marshall starts at scrum-half in place of Springbok Ruan Pienaar in a side that features none of Ulster's four high-profile South African Test stars -- Declan Fitzpatrick in for Botha, Ryan Caldwell starting his first match since September for Johann Muller and TJ Anderson in for Pedrie Wannenburg in the back-row.
Willie Faloon gets a well-deserved start at openside flanker and, although Munster's greater experience and home advantage makes them favourites, the likes of Faloon and Marshall carry the energy needed to spark an upturn in performance after Monday's loss.
However, if Munster can provide some sort of scrum platform (and they will be wary of Botha's presence on the Ulster bench), they have the firepower to make it pay and they have some heavyweight replacements to call on in Jerry Flannery, Tony Buckley, Tomas O'Leary and Lifeimi Mafi.
There is plenty to play for and Flannery's return should be riotously received by the Munster fans. Expect the home side to copper-fasten their impressive league form as well as a livelier Ulster performance to give McLaughlin food for thought ahead of their seminal Heineken Cup assignment against Biarritz.
MUNSTER -- S Deasy; D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, Denis Hurley; P Warwick, P Stringer; W du Preez, D Varley, P Borlase; I Nagle, M O'Driscoll; D Ryan, N Ronan, D Leamy (capt). Reps: J Flannery, Darragh Hurley, T Buckley, B Holland, T O'Donnell, T O'Leary, L Mafi, B Murphy.
ULSTER -- J Smith; T Seymour; I Whitten, L Marshall, S Danielli; P Wallace, P Marshall; B Young, R Best (capt), D Fitzpatrick; T Barker, R Caldwell; TJ Anderson, W Faloon, R Diack. Reps: A Kyriacou, BJ Botha, T Court, N McComb, I Porter, P Jackson, D McIlwaine.
REF -- D Phillips (IRFU)
Munster v Ulster
Live, RTE2, 7.30