Connacht and Munster ring the changes for dead rubber derby as Conor Murray returns to bench
Both Connacht and Munster have made numerous personnel switches for tomorrow's inter-provincial derby at Thomond Park (kick-off 5.15pm).
With Rassie Erasmus' men guaranteed at least second place and a home semi-final, and Connacht assured of a Champions Cup playoff spot, the object of the exercise for both sides will be to avoid injury.
The return of Conor Murray to the Munster bench is also a huge plus.
Tiernan O’Halloran, who was today named on the PRO12 Dream Team of the Season, Tom Farrell, Cian Kelleher and Andrew Browne are the only players retained in the starting XV following the defeat to Scarlets six days ago.
Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion make up the half back pairing for the trip to Limerick while last week’s try scorer Craig Ronaldson is named in midfield with Farrell. Prop Conor Carey makes his return from long term injury in a new front row with Denis Buckley and Shane Delahunt.
In the back row, John Muldoon returns to captain the side and is joined by flankers Eoin McKeon and James Connolly.
Replacement prop JP Cooney will make his 50th appearance for the province if called upon from the bench tomorrow afternoon.
Commenting on the upcoming game, Pat Lam said: “With this being our final game before the European play off, there is no question that we need an improved performance in Limerick tomorrow. With quite a few changes from last weekend, it’s an opportunity for those guys selected to drive that improvement.
“Winning only once in 29 years in Thomond Park emphasises the challenge we face tomorrow. With the way Munster are playing as a team this season, there is no doubt that challenge has got even tougher.
“At the end of the day it’s a derby game with a lot on the line for both teams and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Connacht: (15-9) T O'Halloran, D Poolman, T Farrell, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher, J Carty, K Marmion; (1-8) D Buckley, S Delahunt, C Carey, Q Roux, A Browne, E McKeon, J Connolly, J Muldoon (C).
Replacement: (16-23) D Heffernan, JP Cooney, F Bealham, S O'Brien, N Dawai, J Cooney, M Boshoff, D Leader.
Rassie Erasmus makes eight changes from the side that defeated Benetton Treviso last week.
With James Cronin, Rhys Marshall and Stephen Archer remaining in the front row, Billy Holland returns to captain the side and partners Darren O’Shea in the second row while the only other change in the pack sees Jean Deysel overcome a rib injury to start at blindside flanker. Yesterday named as Greencore Munster Rugby Academy Player of the Year, Conor Oliver joins Jack O’Donoghue in completing the pack.
Across the backline Angus Lloyd and Ian Keatley come in at half back with Keatley to make his 150th appearance for Munster, doing so against his former side for whom he won 57 caps.
In midfield, academy centre Dan Goggin returns to the starting lineup alongside Jaco Taute who just today was announced as one of six Munster players in the 2016/17 Guinness PRO12 Dream Team.
The final changes see speedsters Keith Earls, Alex Wootton and Andrew Conway form a new back-three.
Naming a very strong bench with no less than six Irish internationals, Erasmus includes Conor Murray in a matchday 23 for the first time since the scrum half sustained a shoulder injury in Ireland’s 6 Nations encounter with Wales at the Millennium Stadium back in March.
Munster: (15-9) Andrew Conway, Alex Wootton, Jaco Taute, Dan Goggin, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Angus Lloyd; (1-8) James Cronin, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Darren O’Shea, Billy Holland – capt.; Jean Deysel, Conor Oliver, Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: (16-23) Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, Conor Murray, Tyler Bleyendaal, Francis Saili.