New Years Eve Battle Royal At The Sportsground.
30th December 2006 By Munster Rugby
If Connacht produce anything like the form they showed against Ulster last time out, or when they played in Thomond earlier this month, then Munster are in for a torrid afternoon at The Sportsground today.
Munster have made nine changes, including two positional, from the side that started against Leinster, for today’s Magners League clash with Connacht (Sportsground 4pm).
One of those positional change sees Christian Cullen come into the full-back berth with Shaun Payne switching to the right wing while the other involves Federico Pucciariello moving from loose to tight-head prop to accommodate the introduction of Darragh Hurley to the Munster front-row. Elsewhere in the pack John O’Sullivan not surprisingly holds onto the number six jersey following his impressive showing last Wednesday against Leinster and James Coughlan gets a well deserved chance to strut his stuff at number 8 in place of Denis Leamy who is named on a bench that includes Ronan O’Gara, Trevor Halstead, John Hayes and squad captain Paul O’Connell.
Interprovincial games are often deemed to earn the winner ‘bragging rights’ over the vanquished. But there is no baggage between this pair, the only right either side will want is the right to add points to their current tally. And for Connacht the need is probably greatest given that they are three points and a game in hand in arrears. That particular game in hand that Munster have will be played next weekend in Rodney Parade so the significance of this Sportsground encounter is crucial to western and southern ambitions.
With the avenue to the Heineken Cup through this year’s Challenge Cup closed to Michael Bradley’s side, their only route now is through the Magners League. And remembering the closeness of the game in Thomond Park earlier this month and the quality of the rugby Connacht produced in Ravenhill, Munster can expect to find themselves in one helluva battle today.
Munster: C Cullen; T O’Leary, B Murphy, L Mafi, S Payne; J Manning, P Stringer; D Hurley, F Sheahan, F Pucciariello; D O’Callaghan, C Wyatt; J O’Sullivan, D Wallace, J Coughlan. Replacements: A Kyriacou, J Hayes, P O’Connell, D Leamy, R O’Gara, T Halstead, J Kelly
Connacht: D Riordan; D Yapp, P Warwick, G Williams, K Matthews; M McHugh, C Keane; B Wilkinson, J Fogarty capt, S Knoop, D Gannon, A Farley; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, C Rigney. Replacements: A Flavin, B Sturgess, M Swift, M Lacey, C O’Loughlin, J Hearty, T Robinson.