Munster’s returning big guns carry greater threat than Ulster’s
Pro14 preview: Munster v Ulster, Thomond Park, Saturday, 5.15pm – Live Eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 2
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Chris Cloete form as strong a backrow as will be found anywhere. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Ulster coach Dan McFarland makes six changes to his team from last week with Munster’s Johann van Graan bringing in eight players who featured in Japan and making 12 changes in total. So sweeping reconfigurations all around for the interprovincial derby, both sides also with one eye on next week’s round one of the European Champions Cup.
Peter O’Mahony captains Munster with Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, O’Mahony and CJ Stander all starting with Conor Murray ready to be sprung from the replacements.
It is an experienced home side save for academy winger Liam Coombes, who makes his second Munster start but in good company with Mike Haley and Conway completing the back three.
Munster know what to expect and have lined up a very able looking pack, O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Chris Cloete as strong a backrow as will be found anywhere.
Ulster have also called on their big names with Jordi Murphy and Jacob Stockdale making their first appearances of the season and have also recalled Stuart McCloskey to provide a serious physical presence perhaps to counter the bulk and threat of Farrell. McCloskey, who has played only 46 minutes for Ulster so far this season after picking up a shoulder injury during the win over Southern Kings almost a month ago, joins last week’s man-of-the-match Luke Marshall in the centre.
Ulster will not want to remember the last time they played at Thomond Park in September 2018. They left nine tries later and wondering just how they managed to lose 64-7. But there have been good times too and the teams drew 24-24 in April last year.
But Ulster have to go back to May 2014 to when they last turned the home side over at Thomond Park, Munster falling 17-19, Michael Heaney scoring a try and James McKinney with five successful kicks.
The visitors make an interesting call at outhalf, where 21-year-old Angus Curtis comes in for his first start of the campaign. He joins John Cooney in the half-back positions.
The Zimbabwe-born player is the son of David Curtis, who won 13 caps for Ireland between 1991 and 1992, including several at the 1991 Rugby World Cup, before returning to Zimbabwe.
History tells us Munster will win this one, a result that would likely keep them top of Conference B.
MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, L Coombes; JJ Hanrahan, A Mathewson; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt), C Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: J Loughman, K O’Byrne, S Archer, F Wycherley, J O’Donoghue, C Murray, T Bleyendaal, A Botha.
ULSTER: M Faddes; R Lyttle, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; A Curtis, J Cooney; McGrath, R Herring (capt), M Moore; A O’Connor, S Carter; S Reidy, J Murphy, N Timoney.
Replacements: A McBurney, E O’Sullivan, T O’Toole, K Treadwell, M Rea, D Shanahan, BJohnston, R Baloucoune.
Referee: F Murphy (IRFU).
Verdict: Home win.