Munster v Connacht
Guinness PRO14, Rainbow Cup, Round 3
Thomond Park, Limerick @6pm, Friday 14th May 2021
Munster continue their decade-long search for silverware in their third inter-provincial derby fixture of the Rainbow Cup. After wins over both Leinster and Ulster, the southern province are the bookie’s favourites to lift the inaugural trophy. Last week the home side physically bossed Ulster in a 38-10 win. Expect more of the same from Johann van Graan’s men in this encounter.
Munster already had two tries on the board before Ulster’s Will Addison was red-carded just prior to the interval for making contact with Rory Scannell’s head. Mike Haely’s try after that incident saw Van Graan’s men take a 19-3 lead into the break. The second half saw the homeside outscore the visitors by three tries to one. Mike Haely was particularly impressive in attack. However, for me, the game was won due to Munster’s aggressive work at the breakdown. Gavin Coombes’ display earmarked him as a real option to replace the departing CJ Stander on a permanent basis.
For Connacht, a heavy home defeat to Leinster came after an impressive start. Andy Friend’s men raced into a 16-0 lead in the opening fifteen minutes. However, after a bright start, their defensive frailties promptly reemerged. Leinster ran in three tries in an eight-minute spell and had racked up a half-century of points by the final whistle.
Connacht were dealt another blow during the week when it was announced that Quinn Roux would be departing the province at the end of the season. After seven years at the club, the 30-year-old South African born Irish international has turned down the offer of a new contract with the province. He is unlikely to feature for Connacht again due to a shoulder injury. His last appearance for the westerners came in January’s 10-16 defeat to Munster at the Sportsground.
Johann van Graan has gone for a mix of youth and experience in this week’s team selection. The half-back pairing of Ben Healy and Craig Casey are given an opportunity to impress. Conor Murray is set to make his 150th Munster appearance off the bench. Also, expect Joey Carbery to feature for the last twenty minutes or so. Munster look particularly strong in the back row where the Gavin Coombes relocates to the no.6 slot and CJ Stander comes in at no.8. Peter O’Mahony captains the side from his familiar no.7 slot.
Andy Friend has made nine changes from the side that started against Leinster last week. There’s a whole new front row of Paddy McAllister, Shane Delahunt and Dominic Robertson McCoy. Ultan Dillane comes back in after missing last week’s game with a knock. Club Captain Jarrad Butler is ruled out after being forced off due to a HIA last week. One feels that Connacht will need to get the best out of Abraham Papali’i to stand any chance against the imposing Munster back row.
15. Matt Gallagher; 14.Andrew Conway, 13.Dan Goggin, 12.Damian de Allende, 11.Shane Daly; 10.Ben Healy, 9.Craig Casey; 1.James Cronin, 2.Rhys Marshall, 3.John Ryan; 4.Jean Kleyn, 5.Billy Holland; 6.Gavin Coombes, 7.Peter O’Mahony (C), 8.CJ Stander.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Tadhg Beirne, Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Keith Earls.
15. John Porch (38),14. Sammy Arnold (13), 13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (9) ,12. Tom Daly (46) ©, 11. Alex Wootton (19), 10. Conor Fitzgerald (34), 9. Kieran Marmion (184), 1. Paddy McAllister (16), 2. Shane Delahunt (97), 3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (65), 4. Niall Murray (15), 5. Ultan Dillane (111), 6. Cian Prendergast (7), 7. Conor Oliver (19), 8. Abraham Papali’i (12)
Replacements: 16. Dave Heffernan (142),17. Denis Buckley (198),18. Finlay Bealham (157),19. Eoghan Masterson (109),20. Sean Masterson (11),21. Caolin Blade (129),22. Jack Carty (156),23. Peter Sullivan (14).
Munster are short-priced favorites for this one. Paddy Power has set the spread at +17 points for this one. Keep an eye on the weather as there are showers forecast for the evening, but if the rain holds off it could suit a high-scoring game.