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Ravenhill a steep climb for young Munster

COACH Brian McLaughlin heaped all his eggs into this Belfast basket by leading his young lambs to a slaughter at The RDS, while holding back his senior side to inject festive cheer into a sold-out Ravenhill.

He has made 15 changes to the side that showed so much heart in Dublin, bringing back captain Johann Muller, Springbok match-winner Ruan Pienaar and All Black tight-head John Afoa.

Muller knows anything other than a win would be a disaster: "It's a big game and I don't have to say a lot to lift the guys for it. This week training has been outstanding -- a lot of energy.

"Munster's strength is their consistency -- it doesn't matter what tournament they play in, they're always there or thereabouts. They are a team that never says die, that's the Munster that I've got to know over the last 18 months."

Perhaps, the most interesting selection is that of the promising Paddy McAllister, 22, at loose-head in what is an experienced and battle-hardened pack of forwards.

McLaughlin's gamble to rest his first team and allow his Ulster Ravens to go out on their shields at The RDS on St Stephen's Day was a calculated one.

Ulster's three-game run came to a brave end in order that their proud record at Ravenhill would be maintained. They have lost there just once in 2011.

Tony McGahan's Munster squad has suffered just one loss in the last eight to Irish provinces and they will want to repeat their home-and-away double over Ulster last season.

However, the decision to introduce Stephen Archer, Ian Nagle and Dave O'Callaghan -- all solid prospects -- into this environment is fraught with danger. Captain Mick O'Driscoll, James Coughlan, Wian du Preez and Damien Varley will be tasked with leading the resistance.

Munster's recent form at home has been in contrast to that on the road.

They have fallen flat on their faces in their last three away dates in the PRO12.

Ulster v Munster

Ravenhill, Tonight 7.05 (Live RTE2)

ULSTER: A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, I Whitten, S Terblanche; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; P McAllister, A Kyriacou, J Afoa, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, W Faloon, C Henry.

MUNSTER: D Hurley; L O'Dea, T Gleeson, L Mafi, J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams; W du Preez, D Varley, S Archer, I Nagle, M O'Driscoll (capt), D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan.

VERDICT: Ulster


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