The final interprovincial derbies of the regular PRO14 season will take place this weekend with Munster welcoming Connacht to Thomond Park while reigning champions, Leinster, travel to Kingspan Stadium to face Ulster.
It is a must-win game for Johann van Graan’s side in Limerick if they are to have any hope of topping PRO14 Conference A and qualifying directly for the semi-final. Glasgow Warriors lead Conference A with one game to go with Munster three points behind in second place.
Should Munster finish second in Conference A, they will play a quarter-final at Thomond Park on Saturday, May 4 at 3pm against either Benetton Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby or Scarlets.
Should they finish first in Conference A, the province will play a home semi-final over the weekend of May 17/18/19 against either Connacht or Ulster.
With that in mind, van Graan has retained 11 of his starters from last weekend’s loss to Saracens in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final. Young Player of the Year, Dan Goggin, Chris Cloete, Stephen Archer, and Calvin Nash are introduced for Rory Scannell, Jack O’Donoghue, John Ryan and Darren Sweetnam.
Neil Cronin and Sammy Arnold are also introduced onto the bench.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin, Calvin Nash; Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (C), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Arno Botha, Neil Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, Sammy Arnold.
Meanwhile, Connacht Academy out-half Conor Dean is set to make his debut for the province in Saturday’s PRO14 clash, partnering Kieran Marmion in the half-backs. The back line has further international experience with the midfield partnership of Bundee Aki and former Ireland 7s Captain Tom Daly.
In the back three, Stephen Fitzgerald returns to Thomond Park to face his former teammates as he is named on the wing, with Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing and the experienced Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
Up front, there is good news for Connacht, as tighthead Finlay Bealham has returned from a hand injury to take his place alongside hooker Tom McCartney and Ballinrobe man Matthew Burke at loosehead.
In the second row, James Cannon starts alongside Joe Maksymiw, while in the back row Captain Jarrad Butler is named at openside, with Eoin McKeon at blindside and another former Munster man Robin Copeland at number 8.
Connacht have already qualified for a PRO14 quarter-final clash against Ulster next weekend.
Kick-off in Thomond Park is 7.35pm and the game is live on eir Sports while TG4 will have deferred coverage from 9.30pm.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, Conor Dean, Kieran Marmion, Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader.
Darren Cave is set to lead out Ulster in their PRO14 interprovincial derby against Leinster on Saturday while Academy back row Marcus Rea could be in line for his senior debut for the province if he’s called upon from the bench.
David Busby, who suffered a long-term knee injury in pre-season, is in line to make his first appearance of the season. The utility back has previously played four games and scored a try on his debut against Zebre in February 2017.
Busby will be joined in the back three by Academy players Michael Lowry and Angus Kernohan, who have made a combined total of 30 appearances to date this season. Cave will partner Peter Nelson in midfield, with David Shanahan and Johnny McPhillips paired at half-back by the Ulster coaching team.
Andy Warwick, John Andrew and Ross Kane are selected in the front row, with Ian Nagle and Alan O’Connor ready to offer support from the second row. Matty Rea, Clive Ross and Sean Reidy complete the forward pack.
Ulster: Michael Lowry; David Busby, Darren Cave (captain), Peter Nelson, Angus Kernohan; Johnny McPhillips, Dave Shanahan; Andy Warwick, John Andrew, Ross Kane, Ian Nagle, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, Clive Ross, Sean Reidy.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Tommy O’Hagan, Tom O’Toole, Nick Timoney, Marcus Rea, Jonny Stewart, Jack Owens, Rob Lyttle.
Meanwhile, Ross Byrne will captain a completely changed Leinster side for the first time during the PRO14 clash in the Kingspan Stadium.
He is partnered by Nick McCarthy at scrum-half while the experienced Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden are selected on the wings with Jimmy O’Brien at full-back completing the back three.
Noel Reid and Joe Tomane are Leinster’s starting centre partnership for Saturday’s game in Belfast.
Jack McGrath, Bryan Byrne and Michael Bent have been selected in the Leinster front row.
Oisín Dowling will make his first senior start alongside Josh Murphy in the second row.
Will Connors continues his return from an ACL injury to start in the back row along with Max Deegan and Caelan Doris, who both came off the bench in last Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final victory over Toulouse.
Ryan Baird, who made two appearances for Ireland U20 in their recent Six Nations Grand Slam-winning campaign, could make his senior debut from the bench. He will become the 57th player used by Cullen this season should he be called upon.
Kick-off in the Kingspan Stadium is 5.15pm and the game is live on eir Sport while TG4 will have deferred coverage from 7.30pm.
Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien; Fergus McFadden, Joe Tomane, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne (c), Nick McCarthy; Jack McGrath, Bryan Byrne, Michael Bent; Josh Murphy, Oisín Dowling, Max Deegan, Will Connors, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Peter Dooley, Vakh Abdaladze, Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Paddy Patterson, Ciarán Frawley, Barry Daly.