A fit again Anthony Horgan returns to the side and he takes up his normal wing berth while Shaun Payne moves from wing to full-back with Jeremy Staunton making way. Up front john Hayes has been omitted in order to give him further recovery time and his place goes to Scottish international Gordon McIlwham who replaced Hayes in that Treviso match.
Munster coach Alan Gaffney is expecting a tough encounter in Dubarry Park. As things stand Munster are a long way off the pace, languishing in 8th place, 11 points behind leaders Ulster and trailing Friday s opponents Connacht by two.
Connacht will need little motivation and their recent form has seen them advance to the second round of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup after an impressive win over Beziers. Gafney points to that feat and particularly the win in France as evidence of the well being.
It takes a special effort to win in France and only the good sides can manage that. Connacht are one of those sides. It s a game that will suit both sides from the point of view of what lies ahead of us in Europe the following week but it s also a game that both sides will be desperate to win.
Gaffney makes three changes from the side that started against Treviso last time out. Two of those changes were thrust upon him by the return of Anthony Horgan and the continued re-hab of John Hayes. Gordon McIlwham comes in for the Bruff prop in an not-unexpected move but the return from injury of Horgan meant that Gaffney was left with the difficult choice between Shaun Payne and Jeremy Staunton.
In the end he went with Payne at full-back with Staunton named on the replacement bench. Explaining the thinking behind the decision Gaffney said,
We haven t really had much opportunity to see what sort of options are open to us at full-back and this game gives us that opportunity now. We are always looking at different combinations but you need a match situation to really find out what is or isn t feasible. It was of course a tough call but that s what we have a squad for.
Payne has been outstanding for Munster this season and has often been asked to slot into the number 15 position in the course of matches without ever been given an extended run there. On Friday he gets the chance to lay down a serious challenge to Jeremy Staunton for the full-back position.
Munster Team to Face Connacht:
Shaun Payne; John Kelly, Mike Mullins, Rob Henderson, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Frank Sheahan, Gordon McIlwham; Donncha O Callaghan, Paul O Connell, Jim Williams capt, David Wallace, Anthony Foley.
Replacements: James Blaney, Simon Kerr, Stephen Keogh, David Pusey, Eoin Reddan, Jeremy Staunton, Jason Holland.
Munster v Connacht - Celtic League Dubarry Park, Athlone Friday, January 2nd at 7 pm.