Munster v Leicester: How the sides compare

MUNSTER
Munster v Leicester: How the sides compare

Selection

Relief throughout the province as Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan, Francis Saili and Mike Sherry were all passed fit after injury concerns and were included by head coach Anthony Foley in the Munster squad.

Foley has swung the axe after last Sunday’s Pro12 poor performance in defeat at the Dragons, returning James Cronin and BJ Botha to the front row alongside hooker and Champions Cup debutant Niall Scannell.

Ireland lock Ryan is reunited with Dave Foley in the second row as Aussie veteran Mark Chisholm drops to the bench while Robin Copeland comes in at blindside for a first European start for Munster since joining in the summer of 2014. He joins openside Dave O’Callaghan and returning No.8 and captain CJ Stander in the back row. Murray comes in at scrum-half having not played since the round one win over Treviso, when he bruised a bone in his foot, and partners Ian Keatley, with fellow fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal poised for a European debut from the bench. All Black Saili returns to outside centre after a calf issue. Keith Earls and Andrew Conway join Simon Zebo in a revamped back three. Hooker Sherry is named among the replacements, having injured his knee against Treviso last month.

One to Watch

Dave Foley has a chance to prove his worth in an all-Irish second row having seen Australian Mark Chisholm preferred in round one. He joins Donnacha Ryan at lock at an opportune moment with Test players Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy looking doubtful for February’s Six Nations title defence.

LEICESTER

Selection

Former New Zealand U20 Brendon O’Connor returns to the Tigers back row at openside having made a try-scoring Champions Cup debut against Stade Francais in round one, sending England’s Tom Croft to the bench as Lachlan McCaffrey replaces Jordan Crane at No.8 and captain Ed Slater switches from lock to blindside.

That means lineout leader Graham Kitchener is joined by Mike Fitzgerald at lock while Argentina loosehead Marcos Ayerza returns alongside Tom Youngs and Dan Cole in an all-international front row.

England’s Ben Youngs returns at scrum-half alongside Owen Williams and there is one change in the outside backs from the team that won at Worcester last week, with Matt Smith replacing Peter Betham at centre.

Danger Man

Tongan international Telusa Veainu, 24, joined the Tigers after the World Cup and has already made his mark in four appearances, scoring a length of the field intercept try against Bath and last week topping the Premiership stats with gains of 150 metres against Worcester, beating nine defenders and making three clean breaks. Veainu has three of the four highest gains in Premiership matches this season according to Opta, making 460m overall.

THE X FACTOR

Remarkably, neither of the sides has managed a win on home soil in the three meetings between the pair since the 2002 Heineken Cup final on neutral ground in Cardiff. Munster have won on both their visits to Welford Road while Leicester famously sent the Reds to their first Euro defeat at Thomond Park in a 2007 pool game.

Form suggests a repeat is on the cards here, with the Tigers unbeaten since November 7 having secured bonus-point Champions Cup wins over Stade Francais and Treviso, while Munster have lost their last two Pro12 games.

PREDICTION

Never mind the form book, Munster at home under the Thomond Park lights with their backs to the wall bears all the hallmarks of another famous European victory over English rivals.

But only if they banish their last two league performances and restore the grit and intensity of their early-season form.

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