CJ Stander captains Munster as Connacht rest big guns
Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane all left out Thomond Park squad
CJ Stander and Jean Kleyn start for Munster against Connacht on Saturday night. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Munster v Connacht, Saturday January 6th, Thomond Park, 7.45pm ko (TG4)
CJ Stander will captain Munster as they welcome Connacht to Thomond Park on Saturday night.
Coach Johann van Graan has been able to welcome Chris Farrell, Rhys Marshall and Conor Oliver back from injury as his side look to bounce back from their 24-17 defeat to Ulster on New Year’s Day.
Conor Murray and Ian Keatley form a strong halfback partnership, while Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls start in an all-international back three.
Up front Oliver makes his first start of the season at flanker, with Jack O’Donoghue and Stander making up the rest of the backrow. Peter O’Mahony is among the replacements.
Meanwhile Connacht coach Kieran Keane has rested a number of big guns following their side’s gruelling 21-18 defeat to Leinster, with Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane all left out of the squad.
The in form Matt Healy retains his place on the wing, with Niyi Adeolokun and Tiernan O’Halloran making up the back three - while Jack Carty and Caolin Blade start in the halfbacks.
Up front, John Muldoon leads the side from number eight, while prop Peter McCabe starts against his former province.
Ahead of the trip to Limerick, Keane said: “We have come through a series of big games and some guys have seen a lot of game time. Our internationals in particular are due a break especially with the Six Nations just around the corner.
“The squad is in a really good place at the moment. Obviously, we felt we could and should have won against Leinster and we came very close. We did the review during the week, we identified where we came up short and now we move on.
“We have some changes in personnel for the Munster game so there are opportunities for other guys to show what they are capable of. Munster will be hurting after their two games over the Christmas period and at home they will be a massive challenge.”
Munster: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Darren O’Shea; Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Oliver, CJ Stander (C). Replacements: Mike Sherry, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Robin Copeland, Peter O’Mahony, Duncan Williams, Bill Johnston, Darren Sweetnam.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Pita Ahki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Peter McCabe, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, James Cannon, Cillian Gallagher, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (C). Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Conan O’Donnell, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, Craig Ronaldson, Darragh Leader.