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David Wallace: Revenge factor to drive Munster

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Munster players, including Pat Howard, Sean Dougall and Gerhard van den Heever, right, warm up during squad training ahead of Friday's Guinness PRO12, Round 9, match against Ulster

Munster players, including Pat Howard, Sean Dougall and Gerhard van den Heever, right, warm up during squad training ahead of Friday's Guinness PRO12, Round 9, match against Ulster

SPORTSFILE

Munster's James Cronin carries a tackle bag during squad training ahead of Friday's Guinness PRO12, Round 9, match against Ulster

Munster's James Cronin carries a tackle bag during squad training ahead of Friday's Guinness PRO12, Round 9, match against Ulster

SPORTSFILE

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Munster players, including Pat Howard, Sean Dougall and Gerhard van den Heever, right, warm up during squad training ahead of Friday's Guinness PRO12, Round 9, match against Ulster

Now that all of Anthony Foley's players are back under his control he can start to prepare for what will be a rip-roaring last few weeks of the year.

After tonight's derby date with Ulster, Munster face Clermont home and away, Glasgow and Leinster before travelling to Connacht on New Year's Day. With that run of fixtures it is no surprise to see a few of the internationals rested for the visit of Ulster.

The Champions Cup back-to-back tie with Clermont will take top priority as always, but we might see one or two surprise inclusions for those games. Tonight is the last chance for players to catch the eye, so I expect a top-drawer performance from Munster.

The fact that Ulster have enjoyed some success in Thomond Park in the last couple of seasons won't have sat well inside the Munster camp at all. The manner of the defeat at the end of last season will rankle with them and they will be keen to right that.

The view will be that 'we owe them one' after that and the Heineken Cup defeat a couple of years back. That will have been exaggerated in the minds of the players following a couple of poor results against Edinburgh and Ospreys already this season. A home defeat tonight is unthinkable in their eyes.

On the other side of the fence, Ulster may well have had a change of priority following defeats in the opening Champions Cup games. They are as good as out of contention in that competition, so if they have the option they will target this game as their best chance.

Just two points separate the teams in the table before tonight's game, so Neil Doak and his troops will be eyeing up another smash-and-grab raid. Top four in the Pro12 is even more crucial for them now. For Ulster the mystique around Thomond Park has probably waned a little so they'll have no fear of coming down. That makes them very dangerous opponents.

But I still think Munster will win this one. They might not have all the heavy hitters involved, but the guys that have been picked are more than capable of getting a result. We have seen huge performances from the likes of Paddy Butler and Robin Copeland in the last two games and players like that will be fresh in the minds of the coaches for Europe.

While not getting to see the Dragons game live like everyone else, the highlights and reports suggest that Munster were very methodical in how they went about securing the win over there.

That victory along with the impressive away win in Cardiff kept the show on the road while the lads were away in Ireland camp, so with a few of them back tonight I expect those standards to be hit again.

JJ Hanrahan will be thrilled to get a run-out at full-back last week against Dragons, but the confidence that Ian Keatley has right now is evident. He picked up the man of the match award last weekend and is clearly buzzing after a good outing for Ireland against Georgia and some very solid Munster displays. That's great to see. I have been very impressed with Duncan Casey. He got his first Munster try last weekend, but has also been bang on the money with his lineout work and scrummaging.

He is really benefiting from working with Jerry Flannery and I often see them practising away together when I pass through UL. There was supposed to be a hooker emergency when Damien Varley and Mike Sherry got injured, but both of them face a mighty battle to get back in.

And that position is a key role now. Munster's game hinges on a well-drilled lineout - the maul is one of their best attacking weapons - and hitting your man is vital. In the last month or so the Ulster lineout has misfired at times - whether that is the throwing or the system as a whole only they will know - but I think Munster hold the vital upper hand there.

The Ulster pack is also without some of its biggest weapons right now. Chris Henry, Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy are all out, while their first-choice fly-half Paddy Jackson is injured and Ruan Pienaar is only on his way back.

The depth of both squads has been tested in the last few months and I think Munster's is stronger. They are the in-form team and are boosted by a few of the Ireland players returning too. It's hard to see anything but a home win.

Irish Independent