Ireland players return as Munster prepare for Ulster visit

Anthony Foley names Simon Zebo in team and Donnacha Ryan on bench

Munster winger Simon Zebo will start against Ulster. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Munster winger Simon Zebo will start against Ulster. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

It’s not been the most uplifting of weeks for Anthony Foley and Neil Doak as their teams prepare to do battle in the season’s first interprovincial.

Felix Jones’s midweek retirement saw Foley re-enter the short-term contract market to bring in Puma fullback Lucas González Amorosino, while ex-Ulster flanker Seán Doyle was snaffled from Australia to fill the void left by the injured Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony.

Punishing

Doak has had to cope with Iain Henderson joining an injury list including Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe. And all of this ahead of a punishing schedule of games without a break until the end of January.

Even so, third-placed Munster still look to be in better shape. Foley has Simon Zebo starting and Donnacha Ryan benched in a side that shows seven changes from the one that lost for the first time this season at the Scarlets.

Tomás O’Leary also makes his first start since returning to Munster and his partnership with Ian Keatley will be pivotal. Pivotal too will Munster’s work at the breakdown and in the collisions, with centre Francis Saili and backrowers Robin Copeland and CJ Stander expected to do damage.

Fifth-placed Ulster – who have lost both games on the road – have World Cup players Paddy Jackson and Darren Cave starting this week, with Chris Henry on the bench.

Chief carriers

Doak has made two other changes, naming Peter Nelson at fullback and Andy Warwick at loosehead prop. Much will hinge on how much front-foot ball Ulster get from chief carriers Nick Williams and centre Stuart McCloskey.

Last season’s encounters were close-run things, with Munster just surviving to triumph at Thomond, before the sides served up a pulsating draw in Belfast in May.

Still, Foley will probably be the more upbeat coach as the week draws to its close.

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