- Additional reporting by Stephen Barry
At last, something is going Johann van Graan’s way after the Munster head coach was able to select JJ Hanahan as his starting fly-half to face Racing 92 in Sunday’s crucial Heineken Champions Cup pool clash at La Défense Arena.
As recently as Wednesday, Hanrahan had been rated as only 50-50 by the head coach to face the Parisians this weekend as he continued his recovery from a hamstring strain sustained in the December 28 PRO14 home loss to Leinster. Van Graan also insisted the 27-year-old out-half would not be selected if he was anything other than 100 per cent fit but 48 hours later, Hanrahan is back in the number 10 jersey for a penultimate-round game Munster have to win if they are to have any hope of progressing from Pool 4 into the knockout stages.
Hanrahan will still have to come through a final training session in Limerick on Friday afternoon in order to satisfy the Munster medics he is ready to board the Saturday morning flight from Shannon to the French capital with academy fly-half Ben Healy on standby for a dramatic European debut if the Kerryman fails to clear the final hurdle, though the 20-year-old has not been named in the matchday 23.
The starting line-up shows eight changes from the XV which was comprehensively beaten at Ulster last Friday with props Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer, and locks Jean Kleyn and Billy Holland returning to a front five that was outmuscled last weekend in Belfast.
CJ Stander is restored at No.8 in place of Arno Botha to be reunited with flankers Jack O’Donoghue and captain Peter O’Mahony while the props link up with hooker Niall Scannell, who will make his 100th Munster appearance on Sunday.
Hanrahan, the only non-international in all-Irish qualified starting line-up, partners Conor Murray in the half-backs while Rory Scannell, a candidate earlier in the week to fill in at 10 in the absence of Joey Carbery, Tyler Bleyendaal and, potentially, Hanrahan, is bolstered in midfield by the return of Chris Farrell.
Mike Haley is named at full-back with Andrew Conway and Keith Earls starting on either flank.
Scrum-half Craig Casey and in-form outside back Shane Daly are both in line for Champions Cup debuts having been named among the replacements.
Former Munster hero Donnacha Ryan, a thorn in his home province’s side at lineouts in recent meetings, including last November’s 21-21 draw at Thomond Park, must be satisfied with a place on the bench as Laurent Travers continues with the second row of Boris Palu and Dominic Bird which helped beat Top 14 rivals Clermont at home last weekend. Simon Zebo was injured in that game and is replaced by Brice Dulin at full-back.
MUNSTER (vs Racing 92): Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (C), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Arno Botha, Chris Cloete, Craig Casey, Dan Goggin, Shane Daly.
RACING 92: B Dulin; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy - captain, J Imhoff; F Russell, T Iribaren; E Ben Arous, C Chat, B Tameifuna; B Palu, D Bird; W Lauret, B Le Roux, A Claassen.
Replacements: T Baubigny, H Kolingar, C Gomes Sa, D Ryan, F Sanconnie, M Machenaud, B Volavola, O Klemenczak.
James Ryan will miss Leinster's game against Lyon at the RDS on Sunday.
The Ireland second-row picked up a calf injury during the first half of Leinster's 54-7 win over Connacht last week.
His absence is one of two changes from Leinster's last Champions Cup game, a 50-21 wn over Northampton, with Devin Toner coming into the team longside captain Scott Fardy.
The other swap sees Max Deegan preferred to Caelan Doris at number 8.
Leinster: Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy (c), Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Peter Dooley, Andrew Porter, Ross Molony, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ciaran Frawley, Rob Kearney.
Lyon: Toby Arnold, Xavier Mignot, Ethan Dumortier, Thibaut Regard (c), Noa Nakaitaci, Jean-Marcellin Buttin, Jonathan Pélissié, Hamza Kaabèche, Badri Alkhazashvili, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Martial Rolland, Hendrik Roodt, Killian Geraci, Etienne Oosthuizen, Virgile Bruni.
Replacements: Jeremie Maurouard, Raphael Chaume, Kévin Yaméogo, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Felix Lambey, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Joris Moura, Josua Tuisova.
Scrum-half Stephen Kerins gets a first European start as Connacht recall a host of internationals for the visit of Toulouse to the Sportsground.
Caolin Blade is switched to the replacements having started the last nine games for Connacht.
Jack Carty and Bundee Aki return after a fortnight off, while there are also starts for Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, and Matt Healy.
In the back-row, captain Jarrad Butler and Colby Fainga’a have both recovered from injury.
Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Stephen Kerins, Paddy McAllister, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga'a, Jarrad Butler (c).
Replacements: David Heffernan, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Joe Maksymiw, Eoin McKeon, Caolin Blade, David Horwitz, John Porch.
Toulouse: Thomas Ramos, Arthur Bonneval, Sofiane Guitoune, Pita Ahki, Cheslin Kolbe, Zack Holmes, Antoine Dupont, Clément Castets, Julien Marchand, Charlie Faumuina, Florian Verhaeghe, Joe Tekori, Rynhardt Elstadt, Jerome Kaino (c), Selevasio Tolofua.
Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Rodrigue Neti, Dorian Aldegheri, Rory Arnold, Alban Placines, Sébastien Bézy, Romain Ntamack, Yoann Huget.
Ulster have kept rotation to a minimum from their 38-17 win over Munster for the trip to Clermont Auvergne's Stade Marcel-Michelin.
The introduction of international back-rowers, Marcell Coetzee and Jordi Murphy, are the sole changes from last Friday's win.
They come in for Matthew Rea and Nick Timoney.
Clermont Auvergne: Nick Abendanon, Damian Penaud, Isaiah Toeava, George Moala, Alivereti Raka, Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra (c), Etienne Falgoux, John Ulugia, Rabah Slimani, Paul Jedrasiak, Sébastien Vahaamahina, Arthur Iturria, Alexandre Lapandry, Fritz Lee.
Replacements: Yohan Beheregaray, Loni Uhila, Sipili Falatea, Sitaleki Timani, Alexandre Fischer, Greig Laidlaw, Jake McIntyre, Apisai Naqalevu.
Ulster: Will Addison, Rob Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O'Connor, Iain Henderson (c), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O'Sullivan, Tom O'Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Matt Rea, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Matt Faddes.