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Munster centre Pat Howard is set to make his first start for the province. Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Munster centre Pat Howard is set to make his first start for the province. Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Munster centre Pat Howard is set to make his first start for the province. Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

TIME for some new clichés.

Professional teams have often cast a wry eye on those who insist that they may have the proverbial eye on the game after the next, rather than the next game.

Munster coach Anthony Foley, whose early adept aptitude for talking in straight lines rather than riddling algorithms makes for an enlightened deviation from the norm, eagerly embraces what is normally a professional no-no.

Rather than decry the looming potential of the seismic back-to-back European clashes with perennial French rivals Clermont Auvergne, Foley instead eagerly awaits the chance to size up his side's preparedness.

An interprovincial this may be but, with several key internationals decreed absent by diktats from above ahead of the European window, this will offer both coaches an opportunity to size up auditions from a host of players seeking fringe benefits.

"A local derby against Ulster at Thomond Park is one to look forward to and hopefully it will be an excellent atmosphere," declares Foley, whose side have racked up a hugely impressive 23 points from their last six outings, despite losing twice in the opening month of the season.

"You want that kind of brother-on-brother intensity because that's what we will face in Europe. We had it when we played Leinster in the earlier rounds and it gives you a feel for what you'll face in Europe.

"We know the importance of this week before we go into Europe. The players are looking at the Clermont games and looking to make sure they are in the 23 for those games.

"When I look at the videos after the game, I get a much better view of how players are performing, their work rate and the little things that they should be doing.

"It's important we keep that momentum going before Europe, winning is a habit and we want to keep going."

Five personnel changes are made to the starting line-up that earned a bonus-point victory last weekend against Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade, with centre Pat Howard set to make his first start for the province.

One change in the front-row sees BJ Botha promoted from the bench. In the back-row, Robin Copeland moves to six with Paddy Butler switching to openside, while CJ Stander comes back into the starting line-up at the base.

Duncan Williams is another returning to the starting line-up at scrum-half alongside Ian Keatley. Having made his debut from the bench last weekend, centre Howard will make his first start for Munster as he lines up outside Denis Hurley in the midfield.

In the back three, Gerhard van den Heever comes in on the right wing with Ronan O'Mahony on the opposite flank, while JJ Hanrahan makes his second consecutive start at full-back.

For Ulster, Rory Best, whose international window was temporarily slammed shut by injury, does start, the international hooker's inclusion one of four changes to the side that beat Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium last Friday night.

In the only change to the back line, Ian Humphreys starts at out-half in place of the injured Paddy Jackson.

LOCKED

Alan O'Connor comes into the second-row alongside Franco van der Merwe.

Both sides are locked together in second place with the carrot of a summit appearance looming, albeit Ulster's Roger Wilson inverts another cliché, namely the one suggesting this is a must-win encounter.

"I wouldn't say it's must-win," he says. "We won't be ruled out of a top four if we lose. But you're always desperate to win an interprovincial. And you need to be at your best because they're full on. We're going there full of confidence.

"We know home advantage is huge for us at the end of the season. We want to finish in the top two and challenge for a trophy from there. This is a crucial time with players away and we're in the hunt which is what matters. It's where we want to be.

"We're having to cope with injuries but that's nothing new at this stage of the year. The guys coming in have taken their opportunity and we have quality players in each position. I think at the moment Paul Marshall is probably playing some of the best rugby he has ever played for Ulster." Verdict: Munster

Munster - JJ Hanrahan; G van den Heever, P Howard, Denis Hurley, R O'Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; J Ryan, D Casey, BJ Botha; Donncha O'Callaghan (capt), B Holland; R Copeland, P Butler, CJ Stander. Reps: K O'Byrne, D Kilcoyne, S Archer, T O'Donnell, S Dougall, N Cronin, A Smith, F Jones.

Ulster - S Olding; L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, P Marshall; C Black, R Best (capt), W Herbst; A O'Connor, F van der Merwe; R Wilson, S Reidy, N Williams. Reps: R Herring, A Warwick, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, R Diack, M Heaney, M Allen, P Nelson.

Ref - I Davies (WRU)

Munster v Ulster,

Live, TG4/BBC 2, 7.35

Irish Independent