Manning gets his chance

JEREMY Manning, Munster’s highly promising New Zealander, is handed an opportunity of establishing himself as a regular in the side with his selection at full-back for tonight’s (7.10pm) eagerly awaited Celtic League clash with Ulster at Musgrave Park.

Manning, a student at UCC, has looked the part when playing either at full-back or out-half and is highly rated by coach Declan Kidney. He takes over from Shaun Payne, who is laid low by a heavy cold.

John Kelly is another enforced absentee from the team having taken a knock in the face during training, and he is replaced on the right wing by South African Anthon Pitout, another who has shown up well since joining the squad a couple of months ago.

Loose head prop Marcus Horan is rested after an especially tough spell during the three autumn internationals and is replaced by Frankie Roche. Federico Pucciarello couldn’t be considered having picked up a bug, so Horan will sit on the bench.

There’s no breather, though, for Ireland regulars Denis Leamy and Donncha O’Callaghan, while Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer and John Hayes, who came in as replacements against Romania last week after being omitted from the original line-up, are back, and along with the likes of Anthony Foley, David Wallace and Anthony Horgan, will be all out to prove a point in front of a likely sell-out crowd of 8,500.

Ulster coach Mark McCall intends to wait until shortly before the kick-off before showing his hand. However, the only doubts concern the composition of the three quarter line and whether Andrew Trimble will fill his Irish berth in the centre or move to the wing, where he has made several appearances for Ulster this season.

Simon Best will be in the front-row but and the other prop won’t be identified until it is decided whether he lines out at loose or tight head. The chances are he’ll wear the number one jersey, which would mean Australian Rod Moore coming in at number three.

Munster will be expected to maintain their clear lead at the top of the table (they currently have 31 points with Edinburgh on 27 and Ulster 26) because of home advantage. They have gone 18 matches unbeaten at Thomond Park and Musgrave Park since their last defeat against Edinburgh in April 2004. Ulster have gone down in their two most recent matches, away to Biarritz in the Heineken Cup and at home to Ospreys in the Celtic League but will be encouraged at having won three of their last four games outside of Ravenhill.

MUNSTER: J. Manning; A. Pitout, G. Connolly, T. Halstead, A. Horgan; R. O’Gara, P. Stringer; F. Roche, J. Flannery, J. Hayes, D. O’Callaghan, M. O’Driscoll, D. Leamy, D. Wallace, A. Foley capt. Replacements: M. Horan, D. Fogarty, T. Hogan, S. Keogh; T. O’Leary, B. Murphy, M. Lawler.

ULSTER (possible): B. Cunningham; A. Trimble, P. Steinmetz, K. Maggs, T. Bowe; D. Humphreys, K. Campbell; S. Best, R. Best, R. Moore, J. Harrison, M. McCullough, N. Best, N. McMillen, R. Wilson. Other squad members - I. Boss, A. Larkin, J. Topping; B. Young, N. Brady, R. Caldwell, S. Ferris.

Referee: A. Rolland (Leinster).

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