It’s 2nd v 3rd in Thomond Park on Friday night and Munster and Ulster renew rivalries in the Guinness PRO12.
EIGHT days before they lock horns with Clermont Auvergne in the first of two crucial back-to-back European Champions Cup fixtures, Munster host Ulster in a crucial Guinness PRO12 clash.
The round nine clash will take on extra spice as a result of Ireland’s clean sweep of victories in the autumn internationals. A number of Irish squad members are set to be involved, but a number will also be rested ahead of their big European Cup ties a week later.
What’s the form like?
MUNSTER have won their last six matches in all tournaments and have claimed 23 league points from their last six PRO12 matches. Surprisingly, the Munstermen have secured more points on their travels this season than they have from their four home games having lost two league games at home early in the season. Ulster have lost just once in the league this season, that away to Treviso. They are as good as out of Europe though having lost their opening two games.
How have Munster fared against Ulster?
Munster have won just one of their last four encounters with Ulster - that a 24-10 win back in December 2012. Ulster won both games last season and are searching for a second successive victory in Limerick for the first time since the early 1990s.
Irish internationals Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, Simon Zebo and Dave Foley won’t feature given their recent involvement in the November Internationals. However, Felix Jones - who came on against Australia - Tommy O’Donnell and Dave Kilcoyne are included on the bench.
Five personnel changes are made to the starting line-up that earned a bonus point victory last weekend against the Dragons at Rodney Parade, with South African centre Pat Howard set to make his first start for the province. JJ Hanrahan continues at full-back while Duncan Williams comes in at scrum-half for the injured Cathal Sheridan. Garryowen’s Neil Cronin - a brother of Leinster hooker Sean - is the replacement scrum-half.
Ulster have also named a strong-looking side with Rory Best returning to captain the side. Tommy Bowe is rested after his international exploits but Stuart Olding, Darren Cave and Craig Gilroy all start and Robbie Diack is among the replacements. They have been hit by injuries though and will be without long-term absentees Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Andrew Trimble, Chris Henry, Ian Henderson and Jared Payne.
MUNSTER - JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever, Pat Howard, Denis Hurley, Ronan O’Mahony, Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams, CJ Stander, Paddy Butler, Robin Copeland, Billy Holland; Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), BJ Botha, Duncan Casey, John Ryan. Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Tommy O’Donnell, Sean Dougall, Neil Cronin, Andrew Smith, Felix Jones.
ULSTER - Stuart Olding, Louis Ludik, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy, Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall, Nick Williams, Sean Reidy, Roger Wilson, Franco van der Merwe, Alan O’Connor, Wiehahn Herbst, Rory Best (captain), Callum Black. Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Michael Heaney, Michael Allen, Peter Nelson.
FRIDAY night’s clash of Munster and Ulster from Thomond Park will be shown live on TG4 from 7.10pm. It is also live on BBC2.
More than 15,000 tickets have already been sold for Friday night. Tickets from €7 for juniors and €23 for adults can be purchased online from www.munsterrugby.ie
Munster are 1/3 favourites with Ulster at 2/1 and the draw priced at 19/1. On the handicap, Munster are -6.