Ronan O'Mahony of Munster runs in to score his side's second try during last season's Christmas fixture between Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park in Limerick Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
IN-FORM Munster host arch rivals Leinster in the first of three crucial inter-provincial fixtures in Guinness Pro 14 at Thomond Park today at 3.15pm.
Munster have brought in extra seating to bring the capacity of Thomond Park up to 26,267 for what is primed to be a sell-out occasion between Ireland’s fiercest rivals.
Munster currently sit in second place in Conference A of the Pro14, 12 points behind pacesetters Glasgow Warriors.
Leinster are also second in Conference B, 13 points adrift of pace-setters, the Scarlets.
The St Stephen’s Day fixture kicks off a hectic spell of interprovincial derbies for a Munster side fresh from their impressive 25-16 Champions Cup Pool 4 victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Sunday evening.
Johann van Graan’s Munster side take on Ulster at Kingspan Stadium on New Year’s Day before hosting Connacht at Thomond Park on Saturday, January 6 at 7.45pm.
The IRFU's Player Welfare Programme is likely to result in the Irish provinces fielding their strongest side possible for their home fixtures of the Festive period, while resting many of their more experienced international stars for the away games.
Munster have won their last five matches in all competitions since Connacht beat them in Galway in Round 7 of the Guinness PRO14 in November.
The Munstermen have won their last 12 home games in Limerick and Cork in all tournaments since the Scarlets 30-21 win at Thomond Park in the PRO14 last February.
However, Munster have lost both matches they have played against fellow Irish provinces this season.
Munster’s 29-17 victory at Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day last season is their only victory over Leinster since St Stephen’s Day 2014.
The two rivals have played each other on 153 occasions since they first locked horns in 1876: the overall tally is now 94 wins to Leinster, 48 to Munster and 11 games drawn.
Since the inception of the Celtic League, Munster have won 13 and Leinster 19 of the 32 meetings between the provinces.
Munster’s backroom team has been strengthened this week by the arrival of their new defence coach, South African JP Ferreira.
Ferreira had signed a contract which will see him remain at Munster until June 2020.
Thirty four-year-old Ferreira makes the move from Super Rugby side Lions Rugby where he held the position of defence coach since 2013, helping the side to a Currie Cup Championship in 2015 and consecutive Super Rugby finals in the last two years.
After a decade working with the South African club across a number of coaching and analyst roles, Ferreira will now be working with head coach Johann van Graan, forwards coach Jerry Flannery and backline and attack coach Felix Jones.
Head Coach Johann van Graan said: “We are delighted that JP is joining our coaching team. He is a great coach that has been very successful at Super Rugby level, getting his side to finals with an excellent defence record.
“He brings a great amount of knowledge and experience with him.”
Munster: A Conway, D Sweetnam, S Arnold, R Scannell, K Earls, I Keatley, C Murray, D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland, P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander
Replacements: N Scannell, J Cronin, J Ryan, D O’Shea, J O’Donoghue, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, S Zebo
Leinster: J Larmour, B Daly, R O’Loughlin, R Henshaw, J Lowe, R Byrne, J Gibson-Park, J McGrath, J Tracy, M Bent, D Toner, J Ryan, J Murphy, D Leavy, J Conan
Replacements: R Strauss, E Byrne, T Furlong, M Kearney, J van der Flier, N McCarthy, C Marsh, N Reid
Match officials – referee: Nigel Owens
AR1: Sean Gallagher
AR2: Stuart Gaffikin
TMO: Simon McDowell
TV: Sky Sports Action 3pm/TG4 2.45pm