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Munster look to seal Pro14 final spot as Connacht bid for upset in Limerick

Both sides have made notable changes for the clash at Thomond Park.

Craig Casey and Ben Healy start for Munster.
Craig Casey and Ben Healy start for Munster.

STRANGE SEASON THAT this is, we’re due to have the Guinness Pro14 final in just four weekends’ time, with Munster bidding to secure their place in the decider with a win over Connacht at Thomond Park tonight [KO 7.35pm, eir Sport].

Munster boss Johann van Graan has consistently spoken about the importance of his team overcoming the semi-final hurdle that has felled them in recent years, but the current campaign doesn’t include that stage. Victory this evening and Munster are into their first final since 2017 when they were beaten by the Scarlets.

Van Graan’s men have two more regular-season games to come after this encounter but a win against Conference B rivals Connacht in Limerick would open up an insurmountable gap. As such, Munster won’t be in the mood for messing around.

There is plenty of change in their selection as van Graan makes eight changes, Billy Holland returning to captain the side after he was missed in last weekend’s edgy win away to Cardiff. 

Another stalwart, Stephen Archer, comes into the team for his 224th Munster cap, taking him above Marcus Horan into fifth place on the province’s all-time appearances list. 

There will be as much excitement about the 21-year-old halfback pairing as anything, with Craig Casey returning after his Ireland debut in Italy last weekend to partner out-half Ben Healy, whose new one-year deal was confirmed yesterday.

23-year-old Gavin Coombes rotates back in at number eight after Jack O’Sullivan impressed there last time out, while the likes of Ireland internationals Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Shane Daly, Mike Haley, Niall Scannell, and the in-form Jack O’Donoghue provide plenty more quality.

All eyes will be on Joey Carbery when he gets off a tasty Munster bench for his second appearance since recovering from his ankle injury, with Damian de Allende and playmaking hooker Kevin O’Byrne sure to add energy too.

Connacht, meanwhile, are intent on slowing up Munster’s inevitable-looking progress into the Pro14 final for another game at least, with Andy Friend’s men fresh off a dramatic late win away to Benetton.

jack-carty Jack Carty returns to the Connacht XV. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Friend has opted for seven changes to the Connacht XV as Jack Carty returns at out-half for the kind of game in which a big performance would certainly be viewed positively by the Ireland coaches. Caolin Blade, another with international ambitions, comes in at scrum-half.

Ireland internationals Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane, and Dave Heffernan are all available to start, while Gavin Thornbury – who has the potential to play Test rugby – is back to bolster the starting pack.

Conor Oliver gets a chance at openside against his former province, although Alex Wootton rotates onto the bench as Friend gives the consistent John Porch and experienced Matt Healy starts out wide.

Connacht have won their last five games away from home and that record will give them some confidence ahead of tonight’s meeting in Limerick, where a victory would draw them back to within at least six match points of Munster.

But with a nice blend of youth and wise heads, as well as a bench offering impact, Munster should be able to get the job done and seal their final spot with two games to spare.

 Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Shane Daly
10. Ben Healy
9. Craig Casey

1. James Cronin
2. Niall Scannell
3. Stephen Archer
4. Fineen Wycherley
5. Billy Holland (captain)  
6. Jack O’Donoghue 
7. Chris Cloete
8. Gavin Coombes 

Replacements:

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. John Ryan
19. Jean Kleyn
20. Jack O’Sullivan
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Joey Carbery
23. Damien de Allende

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Connacht:

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. John Porch
13. Tom Daly
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Caolin Blade

1. Denis Buckley
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Ultan Dillane
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Jarrad Butler (captain)
7. Conor Oliver 
8. Paul Boyle

Replacements:

16. Shane Delahunt
17. Matthew Burke
18. Jack Aungier
19. Niall Murray
20. Eoghan Masterson
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Sean O’Brien
23. Alex Wootton

Referee: Chris Busby [IRFU].

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella, and Gavan Casey chat deteriorating player-referee relationships, perception vs reality with Ireland, initiation songs, a potential ‘home’ Lions tour, and this weekend’s interpros:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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