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Pro12 Cheat Sheet: your guide to the Christmas rugby action

After a brief Heineken Cup hiatus, the Pro12 returns on St Stephen’s Day with two mouth-watering interprovincial clashes. Here’s everything you need to know.

Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Leinster v Ulster

When? St Stephen’s Day, 5.30pm

Where to watch? RTÉ 2, 5.15pm; BBC 2, 5.25pm

The story so far: Unbeaten in their last 11 games in all competition, Leinster currently sit atop the Pro12 table by a single point but Joe Schmidt will know better than to expect any belated Christmas presents from on Monday. It’s over three months since Ulster won on the road but Brian McLaughlin’s men are in the middle of a good run and will be hoping to move up into mid-table.

Team news: Cian Healy is fit to take his place at loosehead after suffering a neck scare during his brief cameo against Bath last weekend. Schmidt has reshuffled his pack completely, making a total of nine changes by recalling David Kearney, Gordon D’Arcy, Fionn Carr, Ian Madigan, Damien Browne, Kevin McLaughlin and Leo Auva’a.

Brian McLaughlin approaches Monday’s game with a similar tack, introducing five new faces for their competitive debuts. Chris Farrell, Michael Allen and Peter Nelson all make their bows in the Ulster back-line while Callum Black and Ali Birch make their debuts in the pack.

Leinster: Fitzgerald; D Kearney, McFadden, D’Arcy, Carr; Madigan, Reddan; Healy, Cronin, Ross; Browne, Toner; McLaughlin, Jennings (c), Auva’a. Replacements: Strauss, McGrath, Hagan, Sykes, Ruddock, Boss, O’Malley, Conway.
Ulster: Nelson; Cochrane, Allen, Farrell, Danielli; McKinney, Marshall; Black, Brady (c), Macklin, Barker, Stevenson, McComb, Birch, Diack. Replacements: Annett, Cronin, Court, Simpson, Joyce, Porter, Olding, Gaston.

Munster v Connacht

When? St Stephen’s Day, 7.45pm

Where to watch? TG4, 7.15pm

The story so far: Munster currently sit third in the table after arresting an early-season slump by winning five of their last six games in the competition. Connacht, as is well documented at this stage, are now winless in their last 10 games and have not beaten Munster in the last five meetings between the sides.

Team news: As expected, John “The Bull” Hayes lines out for the 217th and final time in the red of Munster on what is bound to be an emotional evening in Thomond Park. Tony McGahan has kept just four of the players who started last weekend’s win at home to Scarlets, resting everybody bar Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Donncha O’Callaghan and Niall Ronan.

On the other hand, Eric Elwood makes just one enforced change to the side which went agonisingly close to beating Gloucester in the Heineken Cup last weekend, Fetu’u Vainikolo coming in for the injured Mark McCrea (hamstring) on the wing.

Munster: Scanlon; O’Dea, Earls, Barnes, Zebo; Keatley, O’Leary; Horan, Fogarty, Hayes; O’Callaghan, O’Driscoll (c); Holland, Ronan, Butler. Replacements: Henry,  Kilcoyne, Botha, Nagle, Coughlan, Williams, Deasy, Gleeson.
Connacht: Duffy (c); Vainikolo, Griffin, McSharry, O’Halloran; O’Connor, Murphy; Wilkinson, Reynecke, Loughney; Naoupu, McCarthy; Gannon, O’Connor, Muldoon. Replacements: Flavin, Rogers, Ah You, Kearney, McKeon, O’Donohoe, Jarvis, Tonetti.

In pictures: John ‘The Bull’ Hayes bids a fond farewell to Munster

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Niall Kelly

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