Munster keep Lions in reserve for Connacht clash in Rainbow Cup

Andy Friend has created several milestones since he arrived in Galway three years ago and a first win in Thomond Park this evening since their Pro12 winning season would complete the treble this season
Munster keep Lions in reserve for Connacht clash in Rainbow Cup

British and Irish Lion Conor Murray starts on the bench for Munster in the inter-pro clash with Connacht. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Johann van Graan is hoping that Munster can continue their recovery from their Champions Cup exit to Toulouse and their PRO14 final defeat to Leinster by making it three wins on the spin in the Rainbow Cup this evening at Thomond Park (6pm).

But Connacht will be hoping to make a little bit of history and win away from home to all three provinces for the first time in history.

Andy Friend has created several milestones since he arrived in Galway three years ago and a first win in Thomond Park this evening since their Pro12 winning season would complete the treble this season away to the Irish provinces for the first time.

“Our away form has been good for us this season. The last time we were in Thomond Park we missed out by three points and I thought we had a real opportunity to win that game, but we didn’t. They have had two wins against us this season but this is a great opportunity for us to get a win in the third game,” said Friend.

But van Graan wants Munster to continue to build momentum and finish the season on a high and a win in the new Rainbow Cup would end almost a decade without silverware.

Van Graan has made nine changes to the side which trounced Ulster 38-10 at the weekend, having scored an impressive 27-3 victory away to Leinster in their opening game in the new competition.

“The whole squad just wants to play games,” said the South African. “A lot of guys there was no AIL, we have been lucky to have a few A games but there is not a lot of A games left. Guys are just looking for an opportunity to play on the weekend.

"We’ll keep rotating our squad over the coming weeks, and it will hopefully put us in a good position at the back end of this tournament.”

Matt Gallagher returns for his first start since suffering a shoulder injury against Zebre in November, while Ben Healy teams up with Craig Casey at half-back.

Lions Tadhg Beirne and Conor Murray, who will make his 150th appearance for Munster if introduced off the bench, are being held in reserve this evening while Billy Holland will be making his 246th appearance and one of his final games at Thomond Park, almost 14 years after his debut against Scarlets.

Van Graan said that Murray fully deserved his third Lions call-up.

“Obviously I had seen Conor Murray playing and coached against him, 2012 was the first time I was involved with the Springboks against Ireland on a cold evening in Dublin. He’s been world class since he started playing.

“I’ve said it before, I’ve been privileged to coach some phenomenal nines, including a guy like Fourie du Preez, who before I came to Ireland was the best nine that I’ve coached.

“Conor is up there with the very best, you’ve just got to look at his record.

Going on a third tour, he’s consistent, his kicking is well documented, he’s a phenomenal kicker. I think the things that people don’t see is his defence. The hits that he makes, he gets himself in poaching positions.

“He’s a very silent guy. He just gets on with his business, he’s one of the guys in the team who never says too much but turns up every single week.” Meanwhile, centre Tom Daly will captain a Connacht side which will have four former Munster players in their starting side.

Three of them are at the back with Sammy Arnold on the right wing and Alex Wootton on the other side, while Conor Fitzgerald gets the nod again at out-half instead of Jack Carty. Conor Oliver starts in the back row against his former side.

Carlow native Daly will captain them for the first time in a season when he has played all but one of Connacht’s 21 games this season.

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