Munster & Leinster ring the changes for Aviva showdown

Jack O'Donoghue captains Munster from Number 8, while Leinster welcome Jordan Larmour & Ryan Baird back from injury.
Munster & Leinster ring the changes for Aviva showdown

Andrew Conway returns to the Munster side after injury. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Munster make four enforced changes to their side for Saturday’s must-win United Rugby Championship finale at Aviva Stadium while Leinster will field an entirely different XV from the starting line-up that swept Toulouse aside last weekend.

Jack O’Donoghue will captain Munster for a game they must win to be sure of a home quarter-final draw when the URC play-offs get underway on June 4. The start the weekend’s final round in second place but only on a superior points difference to both the Sharks and Stormers while Ulster and the Bulls could also overtake them in the final standings should Johann van Graan’s men slip up against their nemeses in Dublin.

Leinster’s team selection though has given the visitors more than a puncher’s chance of securing a first league win over their rivals since December 2018 with head coach Leo Cullen making 15 changes from the side which stormed into next week’s Heineken Champions Cup final with a 40-17 demolition of the defending title holders six days ago.

Three of Munster’s quartet of changes from the side that started last time out against Toulouse in their European quarter-final 13 days ago had been signposted at the start of the week. Simon Zebo and Damian de Allende’s injuries sustained in that game ruled them out well in advance but Munster were assessing the fitness of both club captain Peter O’Mahony following his stinger injury and Mike Haley’s progress through return to play protocols after a failed Head Injury Assessment.

Of the two, Haley has been declared fit and continues at full-back while No.8 O’Donoghue assumes the captaincy in O’Mahony’s absence with Fineen Wycherley switching from lock to blindside flanker in a back row also featuring Alex Kendellen on the openside.

Thomas Ahern, Andrew Conway, Dan Goggin and John Ryan all come into the side. Ahern comes off the bench to cover Fineen Wycherley’s positional move while Ryan takes over at tighthead after Stephen Archer withdrew due to illness having been lined for a 248th Munster cap that would have sent him past Billy Holland as the province’s second-highest all-time appearance maker.

Ireland star Conway returns from a knee injury he suffered on Six Nations duty for his first Munster appearance since January on the right wing and Keith Earls moves to the left wing in Zebo’s absence while Goggin replaces de Allende.

In the Leinster camp, Cullen welcomes Ireland internationals Jordan Larmour and Ryan Baird from injury to the starting line-up. Larmour takes over at full-back with Rob Russell on the right wing and Rory O’Loughlin on the left.

Ciarán Frawley and Jamie Osborne resume their centre partnership while there’s a first home start for academy scrum-half Cormac Foley in his fourth senior appearance in partnership with fly-half Harry Byrne as Cullen rests both captain Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne ahead of the European final.

Ed Byrne takes over as skipper at loosehead prop as Leinster formidable starting pack is rested. Veteran hooker Seán Cronin and tighthead Thomas Clarkson make up the rest of the front row in front of seconds Joe McCarthy and Josh Murphy while Baird returns at blindside flanker in tandem with openside Scott Penny and No.8 Max Deegan.

On the bench, there’s a potential debut for another scrum-half in Ben Murphy, who spent late 2020 on a short-term contract at Munster.

Munster: M Haley, A Conway, C Farrell, D Goggin, K Earls, J Carbery, C Murray; J Wycherley, N Scannell, J Ryan, J Kleyn, T Ahern, F Wycherley, A Kendellen, J O’Donoghue.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Keynan Knox, Jason Jenkins, Jack Daly, Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell.

Leinster: J Larmour, R Russell, J Osborne, C Frawley, R O’Loughlin, H Byrne, C Foley; E Byrne, S Cronin, T Clarkson, J McCarthy, J  Murphy, R Baird, S Penny, M Deegan

Replacements: J McKee, P Dooley, C Healy, D Toner, A Soroka, B Murphy, D Hawkshaw, A Byrne.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

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