Ulster make 11 changes for Munster trip
Pro12 weekend team news:Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has made 11 changes to his starting XV as they aim to make it 12 games unbeaten in the RaboDirect Pro 12 away to Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday (kick-off 5.30pm).
Only Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall in the backs, and Neil McComb and Robbie Diack in the forwards, are retained from the team which beat Leinster 27-19 last Friday night at Ravenhill.
Despite resting a number of players and having a large contingent involved in an Ireland training camp in Dublin this weekend, Ulster are able to field an all Irish-qualified matchday squad.
Adam D'Arcy will make his first start of the season at fullback and will be joined in the back three by speedy youngsters Chris Cochrane and Gilroy. Michael Allen will partner Luke Marshall in midfield, with Paul Marshall and Niall O’Connor forming a new halfback combination.
Up front, Callum Black, Rob Herring and Adam Macklin make up an all new frontrow, while Lewis Stevenson has returned from an eight-week injury lay off to partner McComb in the secondrow. Roger Wilson will captain the team from number eight, either side of Mike McComish and Diack.
There are opportunities on the bench for Academy players Ali Birch, Stuart Olding, Ricky Andrew and Alan O'Connor, who made his debut against last weekend.
Hooker Niall Annett, prop Ricky Lutton and scrumhalf Michael Heaney provide further back up. Experienced prop Tom Court, the man of the match against Leinster, is also included.
Munstermake eight changes from the side that beat Connacht in Galway, with the international trio of Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo named in the starting XV.
Outhalf Ronan O’Gara is named on the bench with Ian Keatley retaining the number 10 jersey, though this time he'll start alongside Murray in place of Peter Stringer whose late intervention in that Connacht game prevented the match-winning score.
There's a return from injury for Damian Varley at hooker, while Felix Jones returns on the bench. The secondrow of Donncha O'Callaghan and Billy Holland are the only combination who remain intact from a week ago in a game that sees Denis Hurley win his 100th Munster cap.
Shane Jennings captains a young Leinsterteam for the visit of Connacht to the RDS on Saturday night (7.45pm).
In total there are nine changes from the side that lost at Ravenhill, with openside Jennings forming a new backrow trio with Rhys Ruddock at blindside and the promising Jordi Murphy at number eight.
Ben Marshall comes in to the secondrow alongside Devin Toner, with Leo Cullen named on the bench, while Heinke van der Merwe and Aaron Dundon take over from Cian Healy and Seán Cronin in the frontrow.
There are three changes and two positional switches amongst the backline, with Isaac Boss taking over at scrumhalf from Eoin Reddan to partner outhalf Ian Madigan.
Andrew Goodman comes in for Gordon D’Arcy at inside centre, while Fionn Carr will face his former team-mates after being named on the left wing. Fergus McFadden is switched to the right flank, with Andrew Conway moving to fullback, with Noel Reid dropping to the bench.
Connachtcoach Eric Elwood ahs made four changes to his side as they pursue a season double over the European champions after defeating them 34-6 at the Sportsground in September.
Winger Matt Healy earn his first start and cap for the province on the left flank after the 23-year-old impressed in the British and Irish cup.
Danie Poolman moves to the right wing, with Eoin Griffin resuming his centre partnership with Dave McSharry.
In the pack, Denis Buckley is named in the frontrow alongside Jason Harris Wright and Nathan White, who captains the side.
Michael Swift, who returned from injury last week and came off the bench against Munster, will partner George Naoupu in the secondrow.
MUNSTER (v Ulster, Thomond Park, Saturday, 5.30pm):D Hurley; D Howlett (capt), C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan, B Holland, P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell, P Butler. Replacements: M Sherry, M Horan, S Archer, Dave O’Callaghan, J Coughlan, P Stringer, R O’Gara, F Jones.
ULSTER:A D'Arcy; C Cochrane, M Allen, L Marshall, C Gilroy; N O'Connor, P Marshall; C Black, R Herring, A Macklin, L Stevenson, N McComb, R Diack, M McComish, R Wilson. Replacements:N Annett, R Lutton, T Court, A O'Connor, A Birch, M Heaney, S Olding, R Andrew.
LEINSTER (v Connacht, RDS, Saturday, 7.45pm):A Conway; F McFadden, B Macken, A Goodman, F Carr; I Madigan, I Boss; H van der Merwe, A Dundon, M Bent, B Marshall, D Toner, R Ruddock, S Jennings (capt), J Murphy. Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, M Ross, L Cullen, D Ryan, J Cooney, N Reid, A Byrne.
CONNACHT:R Henshaw; D Poolman, E Griffin, D McSharry, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, N White (capt), M Swift, G Naoupu, A Browne, J O'Connor, E McKeon. Replacements (from):E Reynecke, B Wilkinson, R Loughney, M Kearney, E Grace, P O'Donohoe, M Jarvis, T O’Halloran.