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Preview: Munster v Connacht


By Sea_point
May 6 2011

Connacht will want to finish a season of much promise on a high, and taking a result away from Thomond Park will be up at the top of their result this season if they can manage it.

MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, May 6
MUNSTER (1st) v CONNACHT (9th), Thomond Park, 7.05pm (live RTE 2)

Munster have an opportunity to end the league phase on a high as they welcome provincial rivals Connacht to Thomond Park, just six days after their exit from the Amlin Challenge Cup. Tony McGahan will want a strong performance from his charges ahead of next week's semi-finals. Tomas O'Leary returns to the Munster side for the first time since January for Friday's clash with Connacht at Thomond Park Stadium

O'Leary will partner Ronan O'Gara who is just one of four players retained in the starting XV from last weekend, the others being full-back Felix Jones, wing Doug Howlett and Denis Leamy who this time around starts at number eight. Alan Quinlan is also included in the starting XV.
Danny Barnes will partner Johne Murphy in the centre while Simon Zebo takes over from Keith Earls on the wing.

O'Gara, who will win his 206th Munster cap was honoured at a Civic Reception in Cork City Hall on Wednesday to mark his contribution to a sport he has illuminated since first making his Munster senior debut back in August 1997.

Jogging out with him on Friday will be his colleague through all those years, Alan Quinlan who wins his 211th Munster cap.

O'Gara was his usual forthright self at the media briefing in UL on Tuesday when he said his side's performance (against Harlequins) was 'unacceptable'. "It was disappointing to play like that especially in front of our own supporters who turned up in huge number," he said.

"We pride ourselves on giving them value for their loyalty and last weekend we failed. Simple as that. We have to hold our hands up, take responsibility. And we will. All we can do now is try and regain some of the ground we've lost when we get the opportunity and that opportunity presents itself on Friday."

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has finalised his team and replacements for the round 22 tie with Munster.

The westerners are hoping to bounce back from their narrow defeat at the hands of Ulster at Ravenhill two weeks ago. Connacht have won 7 matches, drawn 1 and earned 6 losing bonus points to sit in 9th position with only the Inter-Provincial derby this weekend left.
Eric Elwood's side has a blend of youth and experience with centurion's captain Johnny O'Connor, Brett Wilkinson John Muldoon, Gavin Duffy and Mike McCarthy complimenting dynamic Academy Graduates such as Dave Nolan, Eoin Griffin and Tiernan O'Halloran.

Frank Murphy starts at scrum-half, the former Leicester number nine has been capped by Connacht 70 times since joining in 2008. He's joined at fly-half by the league's second highest points scorer Ian Keatley. Keatleys' 2 tries, 20 conversions, 55 penalties and 1 drop goal leave him just 15 points behind the Ospreys Dan Biggar in the accumulator chart.
Galway youngster Griffin and Miah Nikora make up the centre partnership, with Fionn Carr, who has agreed to join Leinster, Brian Tuohy and Duffy starting once again in the back-three.

Connacht's front row unit of Wilkinson, Sean Cronin and Jamie Hagan have all represented Ireland at senior or Wolfhounds level.

McCarthy and Bernie Upton will provide the grunt in the second row, while Andrew Browne, O'Connor and Muldoon join forces in the back row.

Pre-Match Quotes:
Paul O'Connell (Munster) - "I think we have a good strong squad and we are just not performing. You can get into the ins and outs of the age profile of the squad, but I think we still have excellent players who can still produce the goods.

"At the same time I think our Magners League form has been excellent. We have been really dogged in the Magners League and have played some good rugby.

"We have been good defensively and good in attack, but we just haven't produced it on the big occasions and that is very frustrating for us and very frustrating for the supporters as well.

"It is probably magnified as well by how well Leinster are playing. They have a very young strong squad and it is tough for our supporters and us watching them being so successful.

"They are playing a really good brand of rugby and they are the team that we have to aspire to, they are playing at the standard we have to aspire to.

"I think we need a big performance (on Friday) to put us back on track. The Magners League becomes our main focus now and even more than that our next game is our next focus.

"Tony spoke about restoring our reputation a little bit after that performance (against Harlequins) and hopefully we get this shot against Connacht and another shot in the semi-finals and we'll see what happens there."

Eric Elwood (Connacht) - "(The loss to Ulster was) frustrating and disappointing for the effort we put in. To leave Ravenhill with nothing was hard to take. Sport can be cruel, you don't always get what you deserve.

"We knew the match was massive, and that we would be judged on that performance. I think we got the performance, but not the result.

"Even if had got a bonus point, it would have been a credit to the lads to get something out of the game going forward to Munster.

"Now we want the lads to finish strongly - we want them to finish with the same competitiveness and that 100% commitment. We don't want to see them fizzle out, but to do justice to themselves and how they have performed all year, so we need another huge effort against Munster."

RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:

Friday, March 28, 2008 - Connacht 5 Munster 16, the Sportsground
Sunday, December 28, 2008 - Connacht 12 Munster 6, the Sportsground
Satuday, April 18, 2009 - Munster 25 Connacht 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, December 26, 2009 - Munster 35 Connacht 3, Thomond Park
Sunday, April 18, 2010 - Connacht 12 Munster 18, the Sportsground
Monday, December 27, 2010 - Connacht 12 Munster 16, the Sportsground

Form: Connacht have beaten Munster just once since 1986: 12-6 in Galway on 28 December 2008. Munster have won their last seven matches in the Magners League and have already qualified for a home semifinal at Thomond Park. Munster have won all 10 previous home games in the Magners League this season. Connacht currently reside in 9th place in the league table and will be all out to try to obtain their best ever league finish. Connacht's only away win in the Magners League this season was 19-17 at Glasgow in round three.

Top Scorers - 2010/11 Magners League:
Munster - Points: Ronan O'Gara 167; Tries: Doug Howlett 6;
Connacht - Points: Ian Keatley 218; Tries: Fionn Carr 7

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/10; Draw: 30/1; Connacht to win: 11/2

The teams:
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Johne Murphy, 12 Danny Barnes, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 Niall Ronan, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Paul O'Connell (c,)4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Damien Varley, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 S Archer, 19 IanNagle, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Deni Hurley.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Brian Tuohy, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Miah Nikora, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Johnny O'Connor (C), 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Bernie Upton, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Dylan Rogers, 19 Dave Nolan, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Cillian Willis, 22 Troy Nathan, 22 Tiernan O'Halloran.

Date: Friday, May 6
Venue: Thomond Park Stadium
Kick-off: 19.05 BST
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland) 

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Preview: Munster v Connacht
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