Munster face what will be one of their fiercest challenges at Galway’s Sportsground on Sunday.
Added to the traditional rivalry, there’s a huge amount at stake for both sides. Connacht are within touching distance of a place in next season’s Heineken Cup while Munster are now in a dogfight for qualification to the knock out stages. This is their third last game and arguably their toughest, with a home game against high flying Ospreys and then an away trip to Cardiff.
Team manager Shaun Payne put the task in context saying, "There’s three games left in the competition We can’t afford to be dropping any points at this stage. It’s Connacht at The Sportsground. Every year it’s a very close game and obviously we came a cropper last year.
Looking at Connacht current good heath he continued, "If you look at their recent form, I think they’ve been outstanding. The best I’ve seen them play since I’ve been here (in Ireland). I thought they were excellent against Leinster away and deserved to win that game. They did brilliantly to come through last weekend. They’re playing really very very well at the minute. The Sprtsground ? That’s never ever an easy place to get a result. This is a huge task."
Speaking about the Munster selection Payne said. " We won the game last weekend so we’ve a semi final coming up and whatever happens after that. There are vital League games to follow this one and obviously with a a challenge like this, the temptation is to pick your frontline team. But we have to take cognisance of what lies ahead and plan accordingly.
"This is a vital game. Every single game at this stage of the competition is a vital game. But this one first and it is a question of balancing the books.
One thing for certain is that Munster will not be travelling to make up the numbers and what the newcomers bring to the party besides youthful enthusiasm is pace. Barnes and Zebo are lightning quick and Cusack is an out-half in the traditional mould, big and strong with a massive boot.
Deasy is no slouch either while Gleeson adds steel to a backline that will be marshalled by Warwick and Stringer, two of the best in the business,.
Up front Dave Ryan deputises for Marcus Horan and Billy Holland who has yet to play a poor game in the Munster shirt partnering Mick O’Driscoll who is enjoying another wonderful season in the autumn of his career.
Munster: Scott Deasy; Danny Barnes, Tom Gleeson, Paul Warwick, Simon Zebo; Declan Cusack, Peter Stringer; Dave Ryan, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley; Mick O’Driscoll capt; Billy Holland; Nick Williams, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan. Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Julien Brugnaut, Dave Foley, Peter O’Mahoney, Conor Murray, Jeremy Manning, Sean Scanlon.
Connacht: Gavin Duffy, Troy Nathan, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Fionn Car, Ian Keatley, Frank Murphy, Brett Wilkinson, Sean Cronin, Jamie Hagan, Michael Swift, Bernie Upton, John Muldoon capt., Johnny O’Connor, George Naoupu Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Michael McCarthy, Mike McComish, Conor O’Loughlin, Miah Nikora, Aidan Wynne.