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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 21 January 2021
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Connacht bid to back up Leinster win against strong visiting Munster side

Johann van Graan has brought his frontliners back for this evening’s clash in Galway.

Sammy Arnold will play against his former province this evening.
Sammy Arnold will play against his former province this evening.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

WHILE CONNACHT HAVE drawn plenty of deserved plaudits over the past week, it has regularly been pointed out that Leinster were missing the majority of their frontline players and were hampered by injury last weekend.

A fair argument, but then Connacht might point out that Leinster still had 670 more provincial caps and 278 more Test caps than them on the night as the westerners surged to a victory that the Guinness Pro14 probably needed.

What better way to follow through on that victory in Dublin than by backing it up at home against a very strong Munster team this evening [KO 7.35pm eir Sport/TG4].

Again, Connacht are not the favourites for this tie but head coach Andy Friend will feel he has been able to strengthen his matchday 23 since last weekend.

The dynamic Ultan Dillane starts in the second row, first-choice tighthead Finlay Bealham returns, the physicality of Sean O’Brien is introduced to the back row after his recovery from injury, and former Australia 7s star Ben O’Donnell gets his first start on the right wing.

On top of that, Paul Boyle and Dave Heffernan return among the replacements to offer impact options at the Sportsground.

Connacht are aware of the make-or-break nature of this tie given they are already eight points behind Conference B leaders Munster, with the two conference winners advancing directly into the Pro14 final this season. It’s a huge chance for second-placed Connacht to start making up the gap.

For their part, Johann van Graan’s Munster aren’t taking any chances, with the head coach bringing back all of his fit and available key men as he makes 14 changes from last weekend’s defeat away to Ulster.

ultan-dillane Ultan Dillane is back in the Connacht starting XV. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While Dave Kilcoyne misses out with a niggle setback after returning from injury off the bench against Ulster, van Graan brings back in Ireland internationals such as Conor Murray, CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne, Chris Farrell, Keith Earls, and captain Peter O’Mahony.

Springboks centre Damian de Allende has quickly become central to how Munster play and he is back alongside Farrell for what should be an absorbing midfield contest against the in-form Connacht pair of Tom Daly and Sammy Arnold.

Arnold made the move from Munster to Connacht last summer along with Conor Oliver and Alex Wootton, so they are likely to bring particular motivation to prove their quality on this big occasion.

Thankfully, that’s exactly what this contest feels like even without the absence of fans – a big inter-provincial clash.

Munster might not have been able to field quite as strong a team here had their St Stephen’s clash with Leinster gone ahead – van Graan had planned to start his Ireland stars in that one – but things have worked out to provide us with what should be an engaging encounter tonight.

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With Stephen Larkham’s influence seemingly continuing to grow, Munster will look for this team – 13 of whom started against Clermont in that sensational comeback win – to underline that the province is making strides in the right direction for 2021.

Connacht, meanwhile, will look to show that last weekend in Leinster was no one-off.

Connacht:

15. John Porch
14. Ben O’Donnell
13. Sammy Arnold
12. Tom Daly
11. Alex Wootton
10. Jack Carty
9. Caolin Blade

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Quinn Roux (captain)
6. Sean O’Brien
7. Conor Oliver
8. Sean Masterson

Replacements:

16. Dave Heffernan
17. Matthew Burke
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
19. Gavin Thornbury
20. Paul Boyle
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Diarmuid Kilgallen
23. Peter Sullivan 

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Keith Earls
13. Chris Farrell
12. Damian de Allende
11. Shane Daly
10. JJ Hanrahan
9 Conor Murray

1. James Cronin
2. Kevin O’Byrne
3. Stephen Archer
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Tadhg Beirne
6. Gavin Coombes
7. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. Josh Wycherley
18. Keynan Knox
19. Fineen Wycherley
20. Billy Holland
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Ben Healy
23 Rory Scannell 

Referee: Frank Murphy [IRFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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