In contrast, his Munster counterpart Tony McGahan has retained only Donncha O’Callaghan, Niall Ronan, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo from the team that defeated the Scarlets on Sunday.
His hands were tied with regard to Paul O’Connell, Donnacha Ryan, Ronan O’Gara and Conor Murray because of the IRFU player protection programme while several others were rested after an intensive programme of matches.
This game signals the final competitive appearance for Munster of the great John Hayes after 216 appearances in the red jersey. He will have familiar company in the seasoned second-row pair of Mick O’Driscoll, who captains the side, and Donncha O’Callaghan and fellow prop forward Marcus Horan.
Following the successful emergence of a group of youngsters like Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo, McGahan is seizing the opportunity to put a number of others through their paces. They include Seán Scanlon at full-back; Luke O’Dea on the wing and Paddy Butler and Billy Holland in the back-row.
McGahan explained: “Each time these guys get the opportunity, they make their mark and put their names in the selection mix. Now they need to consolidate that and make sure they make the most of the opportunities that present themselves in the next two games. All we judge them on is performance. We don’t judge them on potential or what could be there or what we hope.”
Munster lie third in the table on 29 points, six behind pace setters Leinster and five adrift of the Ospreys.
For Connacht, though, it has been a very trying campaign. They have 16 points after three wins and seven losses and have failed to record a victory in 10 outings. But Elwood is confident they can correct that statistic on Monday.
However, he knows a repeat of the form that almost clinched a first Heineken Cup victory in Gloucester last week could be enough for a win over relatively inexperienced opposition. The only change from the Gloucester game sees Tongan international Fetu’u Vainikolo start on the right wing instead of the injured Mark McCrea. The good news is that John Muldoon (gashed knee) is fit to start in an experienced and very able-looking back-row formation.
Elwood said: “The key is for our lads to believe in what they are doing and take the positives from the performance against Gloucester. I didn’t have to say anything after that game. They were gutted. It was hard to see grown men crying. The better team lost but I thought they were magnificent.”
All of that has not been lost on Tony McGahan. “I know that Connacht’s win-loss record isn’t great but from watching them play and the way they played away against Gloucester and how they always travel well down here at Christmas time, we’re expecting a difficult game,” he said.
This Connacht side will be no pushover although the fact this is the last game in the Munster shirt for John Hayes at his favourite venue should be sufficient to ensure another home win and further frustration for luckless Connacht.
MUNSTER: S Scanlon; L O’Dea, K Earls, D Barnes, S Zebo; I Keatley, T O’Leary; M Horan, D Fogarty, J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, M. O’Driscoll (c), B Holland, N Ronan, P Butler.
Replacements: S Henry, DKilcoyne, B J Botha, I Nagle, J Coughlan, D Williams, S Deasy, T Gleeson.
CONNACHT: G Duffy (c); F Vainikolo, E Griffin, D McSharry, T O’Halloran; N O’Connor, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, R Loughney, G Naoupu, M McCarthy, D Gannon, J O’Connor, J Muldoon. Replacements: A Flavin, D Rogers, R Ah-You, M Kearney, E McKeon, P O’Donohoe, M Jarvis, K Tonetti.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU).