©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Connacht v Munster: 3 key battles to decide the outcome

History favours the Reds but a glance at the teamsheets suggests a home win.

CONNACHT HAVE A poor record against most teams in the Pro12 but Munster have proved to be a stubborn stain to shift.

Only once in their past nine meetings have the westerners managed to defeat the visiting Reds.

Eric Elwood has built a competitive and occasionally excellent team that can cause away teams lots of trouble if most of the best XV are fit and firing.

So far in 2012, Harlequins, Ulster, Leinster and Biarritz have taken a trip to the Sportsground and left defeated.

Connacht are missing just three players – Willie Faloon, John Muldoon and Gavin Duffy – that would expect to be involved in this evening’s clash.

Munster are, to name just five, without Donnacha Ryan, Conor Murray, Keith Earls, Doug Howlett and Ronan O’Gara. This tweeter [below] is travelling to Galway but as a vocal supporter.

Here are three key battles that should decide the outcome of this evening’s Pro12 encounter:

Connacht’s front row confidence

The most surprising aspect of Connacht’s 22-14 home win over Biarritz was the way the French side’s front row imploded in the second-half. Brett Wilkinson and Ronan Loughney – and later Denis Buckley and Ethienne Reynecke – shunted the Biarritz scrum left, right and downwards.

They could not repeat the dose in the south of France but have shown they can dominate on their own turf. The return of captain Nathan White at tighthead prop should help and Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne will have his hands full.

BJ Botha and Wian du Preez start on the bench but may surface for action earlier than expected.

Wise heads against Dan and the young man

Rob Penney has given the kicking tee to the reliable Ian Keatley again after going with Ronan O’Gara in the Heineken Cup.

He has brought in Peter Stringer for only his second league start of the season and will need his experience to combat rabid Connacht defence in the opening 40 minutes.

Elwood once again has the luxury of selecting Dan Parks and Kieran Marmion as his half-back pairing. The duo have shown a good understanding in recent weeks but Marmion, 14 years’ Parks junior, does defer to his senior colleague too often when games get tight.

Backline flyers

Munster have never been renowned for their willingness to trust too much ball to their backs. This season, however, Penney has tried to mix things up and use his back five more often.

It is hard to imagine too many tries coming from a backline shorn of Zebo, Howlett, Earls and Jones but Luke O’Dea is a pacy customer and Casey Laulala came good in Munster’s last league away game against Cardiff Blues.

Connacht have the more exciting prospects across the back with Danie Poolman and Fetu’u Vainikolo in try-scoring form. Tiernan O’Halloran has not scored since the 34-6 home win over Leinster in September so will be eager to make a contribution.

* will be providing live coverage of Connacht v Munster from 5pm

Pro12: We wanted to use our scrum as a weapon says victorious Court

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