Cullen set to take centre stage

CHRISTIAN CULLEN will be the focus of attention again tonight when he lines out at centre for Munster in the Celtic League clash with Neath/Swansea Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.

Cullen has been named by coach Declan Kidney for the second successive week, but moves from full back to partner Trevor Halstead in an experiment just two weeks before the Heineken Cup final against Biarritz.

Shaun Payne returns and is one of seven changes from the team that comprehensively beat Border Reivers last weekend.

Cullen replaces the injured Mike Mullen; Mossie Lawlor takes over from the injured Ian Dowling and Ronan O’Gara comes in for Jeremy Manning, who is also injured.

Eugene McGovern takes over from the injured Frank Roche, while John Hayes returns to replace Federico Pucciariello, who is suspended for one game.

Denis Leamy returns for the injured David Wallace, while Paul O’Connell comes back into the pack to give Donncha O’Callaghan a rest.

O’Callaghan, however, is named in the reserves, and he will be joined there by Alan Quinlan who is likely to get some game time tonight. Peter Stringer remains on the sick list, and Tomas O’Leary will take his place in the squad; a bench that is inexperienced enough. The list includes Tim Ryan (UCC) and Damian Varley (Garryowen), while John O’Sullivan and Gary Connolly are also in the frame.

The Ospreys hope to change a losing trend as they try to push the case to win an automatic Heineken Cup spot next season. Even though Munster have won the last four against the Welsh side, including a 27-10 win at Musgrave Park in September, the Ospreys have won their last five home matches and have not lost at home to an Irish team since Connacht won at the Gnoll in November 2004.

It seems the tide is turning for Ospreys as well in terms of winning local support. Since the move from the Gnoll, they have had much healthier attendances, and with the Celtic League set to pass the half-million barrier for the first time, Ospreys hope to add to that after 15,000 turned up for the recent game against Llanelli.

Connacht coach Michael Bradley has made five changes to the side that lost to Cardiff for tonight’s Celtic League clash with Edinburgh at the Sportsground (6:30).

In the backline, Tom Tierney replaces the injured Chris Keane (groin) while David Slemen comes in at full back with Paul Warwick moving to the bench. The final change sees Darren Yapp replace Conor McPhillips on the wing, having recovered from a hamstring strain.

David Gannon replaces the injured Christian Short (ankle) and Matt Lacey comes in for Michael Swift with John Muldoon reverting to blindside flanker.

Irish Under-21 lock David McGowan is among the replacements, meaning the Sligo native is in line to make his debut for the province.

MUNSTER: S. Payne, A. Horgan, C. Cullen, T. Halstead, M. Lawlor, R. O’Gara, M. Prendergast, E. McGovern, D. Fogarty, J. Hayes, M. O’Driscoll, P. O’Connell, S. Keogh, A. Foley (captain), A. Leamy.

Replacements: T. Ryan, D. Varley, D. O’Callaghan, J. O’Sullivan, A. Quinlan, T. O’Leary, G. Connolly.

CONNACHT: D. Slemen, M. Mostyn, J. Hearty, G. Williams, D. Yapp, M. McHugh, T. Tierney, D. McFarland, J. Fogarty, S. Knoop, D. Gannon, A. Farley (captain), J. Muldoon, M. Lacey, C. Rigney.

Replacements: J Merrigan, A Clarke, D McGowan, M Swift, C O’Loughlin, P Warwick, C McPhillips.

Fixtures: Tonight - Connacht v Gunners, Ospreys v Munster, Ulster v Cardiff Blues Tomorrow: Scarlets v Reivers.

Sunday: Warriors v Leinster

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