Van Graan names strong XV as Munster look to secure Leinster semi-final date

Tadhg Beirne returns from injury to partner Fineen Wycherley in the secondrow

Munster v Connacht, Aviva stadium, Sunday, 3.0 – Live on Eir Sport, deferred coverage on TG4

Munster will require a couple of points from Sunday's game if the Scarlets manage a bonus-point win against the Dragons on Saturday to make certain of a Pro14 semi-final place against Leinster. That game is set to take place next Friday at the same venue in order to facilitate the Republic of Ireland soccer team who play Finland in a Nations Cup game at the Aviva on Sunday week.

Johann van Graan has picked a strong side – injuries to RG Snyman, Jean Kleyn, Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin notwithstanding – retaining last week's backline en masse and three of the pack, Niall Scannell, captain Peter O'Mahony and number eight CJ Stander, who had a fine game at the breakdown last week, pinching three important turnovers.

Tadhg Beirne returns from injury to partner Fineen Wycherley in the secondrow, while Munster have opted for a 6-2 split on the bench, one that includes talented backrows Jack O'Donoghue and Jack O'Sullivan.

Connacht coach Andy Friend had already announced his intentions to make swingeing changes with just flanker Eoghan Masterson starting again this weekend.

He explained: “Our key objective in these two games has always been to give players some much needed game-time while putting in two positive performances which reflects the work they’ve put in as a squad these past few months.”

Ex-Ulster and Munster centre Sammy Arnold will make his Connacht debut, so too will former Bay of Plenty number eight Abraham Papali'i. Colm de Buitléar gets a rare opportunity on the right wing in a side captained by a fit again Quinn Roux.

Former Munster academy prospect and Limerick minor hurler Conor Fitzgerald gets a chance at outhalf in the absence of Irish international Jack Carty and his presence has been noted by his opposite number JJ Hanrahan.

The Currow native was generous in his praise. "I think Fitzy is a great player. I know Zeebs [Simon Zebo] used to call him 'young Rog [Ronan O'Gara]'when he was down here and first came into the academy. Andy Friend put an awful lot of confidence in him and played him a lot. He has been goal-kicking very well, he has been kicking well out of hand; he is a quality young player in a good backline."

Hanrahan had a fine game against Leinster, particularly in an attacking capacity, and admitted that the performance had contained more positives than negatives despite the narrow defeat. “Overall, I thought as a group we did quite well. We executed a lot of stuff that we spoke about what we wanted to do.

“There were a couple of elements in the game we could have done better. We spoke about that and hopefully we can set them right but it has been a good start.” Hanrahan also kicked beautifully from the tee, the one aberration, a conversion that would have tied the game.

He explained: “The only thing I would have said is that I probably could have taken a bit more time [over the kick], got my breath more; there was quite a long passage of play leading into it. There were a few [technical] issues in the kick itself, but they are easy fixes.”

Hanrahan will be looking to build upon last week's impressive start for Munster's new look midfield with Springbok World Cup winner Damian de Allende combining well alongside Chris Farrell, a repeat of which would be appreciated by wings Andrew Conway and Keith Earls, both try scorers last week.

The fact that Munster have something for which to play in tangible terms and have chosen a strong team in pursuing that goal make them strong favourites against a scratch Connacht team, 14 of whom will be starting their first game of the season.

MUNSTER: S Daly; A Conway, C Farrell, D de Allende, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Loughman, N Scannell, J Ryan; F Wycherley, T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), C Cloete, CJ Stander.

Replacements: K O'Byrne, L O'Connor, S Archer, B Holland, J O'Donoghue, C Casey, R Scannell, J O'Sullivan.

CONNACHT: T O'Halloran; C de Buitlear, S Arnold, T Daly, M Healy; C Fitzgerald, C Blade; P McAllister, S Delahunt, D Robertson-McCoy; N Murray, Q Roux (capt); E Masterson, C Oliver, A Papali'i.

Replacements: J Murphy, C Kenny, M Burke, U Dillane, S Masterson, S Kerins, P Robb, C Dean.

Referee: F Murphy (Munster).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer

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