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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 18 April, 2019
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O'Connell's final stand and more talking points as Munster track down silverware

Strap yourselves in, because the Pro12 final is going to be intense.

Star power

MUNSTER COULD BARELY have hand-picked two players they would have liked to lose less to take on Glasgow [kick-off 18.30].

Peter O'Mahony Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Quite simply, the absence of both Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony – the playmaker, the captain – are massive blows to Munster’s hope of claiming a fourth Pro12 title in Belfast this evening.

While the southern province will have Paul O’Connell for one more game (we’ll get to that), O’Mahony is the next generation of the lock, giving Munster a hard edge all over the park and a potent threat at the breakdown.

Donnacha Ryan will add an extra bit of heft to the back-row, but the second row just can’t be as mobile and agile at O’Mahony is and the Munster pack’s forward march will be altered as a result.

Behind the scrum, Murray’s absence is a huge complication. The three other provinces have scrum-half deputies who are either approaching the level of the first choice or who provide a completely different threat.

Murray’s quality is irreplaceable in the southern province and though Duncan Williams did a fine job against Ospreys last time out, starting in a final is a different kettle of fish.

A midfield without maestros?

We’ve long hailed Glasgow for being a team without many stars. Of course, that’s changing the more they prove their worth at the business end of the season, but whoever gets covered in tickertape tonight will have won the final with a backline that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Glasgow successfully converted Richie Vernon from a back row to a centre in recent seasons and the distribution of Peter Horne is a tool brilliantly utilised by the Warriors.

Denis Hurley and with the Guinness Pro12 trophy Source: James Crombie/INPHO

On the other side, running an axis of Andrew Smith and Denis Hurley in a final would not have been part of any long-term plan in the southern province, but the duo have forged an impressive partnership this season.

Smith will move on again this summer, but this season has marked Hurley out as a stalwart for Munster and he will deservedly lead his team out at Kingspan Stadium.

Townsend twists on winning team

Before the semi-final, we praised Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend for his commitment to in-squad competition. And yet the changes, when he rings them, are still surprising.

Out goes the hero and villain of last Friday’s win over Ulster and in comes the winning try-scorer Daniel Tailliferrer Hauman (DTH to his mates) van der Merwe for his last appearance for the club.

Al Kellock acknowledges the crowd after his final home game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Meanwhile the greatest Glaswegian of them all, Ali Kellock, is left on the bench after suffering concussion eight days ago so Munster must contend with the offloading prowess of Leone Nakarawa instead. Adam Ashe drops out of the 23 altogether despite an impressive run towards the end of the season and Chris Fusaro is held among the replacements — perhaps as a direct response to the absence of O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell.

The stars are on the ground

Leaving aside the electric pace of Stuart Hogg, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo, the inevitable stars of the show tonight will be constantly lurking close to the action.

Josh Strauss have been moved back to his natural home at number eight, lining up opposite CJ Stander.

CJ Stander Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The two South Africans (both soon to be naturalised in their adopted homes) have taken the Pro12 by the scruff of the neck all season long. As a one on one contest, this one is a mouth-watering prospect as the two uber-physical and dynamic ball-carriers go on a collision course.

#ThanksPaulie

It’s been 14 long years. An era of ups and downs that Munster fans will always hold dear. Paul O’Connell was at the heart of some of the greatest days in Munster’s history.

The red of Munster courses through his veins, he personifies the values the club hold dear. Humble, hard-working, relentless, brave, terrifying.

Whatever you want in a rugby player, a leader, a man; Paul O’Connell is it. And he’s about to give it all for his team one last time tonight.

Paul O'Connell celebrates at the final whistle Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Munster

15. Felix Jones
14. Keith Earls
13. Andrew Smith
12. Denis Hurley (captain)
11. Simon Zebo
10. Ian Keatley
9. Duncan Williams

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Eusebio Guinazu
3. BJ Botha
4. Billy Holland
5. Paul O’Connell
6. Donnacha Ryan
7. Paddy Butler
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Duncan Casey
17. James Cronin
18. Stephen Archer
19. Sean Dougall
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Cathal Sheridan
22. JJ Hanrahan
23. Ronan O’Mahony

Glasgow Warriors

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Richie Vernon
12. Peter Horne
11. DTH van der Merwe
10. Finn Russell
9. Henry Pyrgos

1. Gordon Reid
2. Dougie Hall
3. Rossouw de Klerk
4. Leone Nakarawa
5. Jonny Gray
6. Rob Harley
7. Ryan Wilson
8. Josh Strauss (captain)

Replacements:

16. Fraser Brown
17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa
18. Jon Welsh
19. Al Kellock
20. Chris Fusaro
21. Niko Matawalu
22. Duncan Weir
23. Sean Lamont

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

- Originally published at 07.20, updated at 17.15.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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