Coombes returns, Carbery at 15 as Munster name side for Connacht clash 

Connacht boss Andy Friend, meanwhile, will welcome back captain and fly-half Jack Carty for the first time this season following wrist surgery
Coombes returns, Carbery at 15 as Munster name side for Connacht clash 

BOOST: Gavin Coombes returns from injury to take his place at No. 8. ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Gavin Coombes is set for his first appearance of the season as Munster also hand first starts of the campaign to Joey Carbery at full-back and Conor Murray for Friday night’s derby clash at Connacht.

Graham Rowntree has made four changes from his side which claimed a first victory of the BKT United Rugby Championship season at home to Zebre Parma in Cork last Saturday with a fit-again Jean Kleyn returning to the second row having completed his return to play protocols earlier in the week following a head knock against Dragons in round two.

Connacht boss Andy Friend, meanwhile, will welcome back captain and fly-half Jack Carty for the first time this season following wrist surgery as the westerners play their first home game of the season and open a new artificial playing surface following the installation of a 4G surface at The Sportsground.

Connacht return to Galway from a two-game South African tour following three successive defeats on the road after a tough series of opening fixtures at Ulster, Stormers and last week’s opponents Bulls.

Carty’s inclusion sees David Hawkshaw switch from 10 to inside centre while the other changes from that 28-14 loss in Pretoria see Shamus Hurley-Langton handed his first start at blindside flanker while lock Gavin Thornbury, centre Byron Ralston and Conor Fitzgerald, at full-back, also return to the starting line-up.

Head coach Friend has opted for a six forwards, two backs split on the bench with back rowers Josh Murphy and Paul Boyle both named among the replacements.

Ireland centre Bundee Aki remains sidelined through suspension following his red card at the Stormers in Stellenbosch two weeks ago.

Munster’s changes are significant with Coombes making a comeback from a groin injury having impressed on tour with Ireland in two games at No.8 against the Maori All Blacks in New Zealand.

Carbery’s first start for Munster in the number 15 jersey is even more notable. 

Signed from Leinster by Johann van Graan specifically to get more game time at fly-half, he has more recently filled in at full-back on Ireland duty towards the end of games and there is a growing body of opinion that his talents are better suited to that position and with Ben Healy starting the season strongly at number 10, head coach Rowntree has seen an opportunity to get both playmakers on the field together with regular 15 Mike Haley unavailable after picking up a knock.

The same fitness problem applies to lock Fineen Wycherley, whose place in the second row is taken by Kleyn alongside Tadhg Beirne in a forward pack that also sees Jack O’Sullivan switch to the bench having started at No.8 in the first three games of the season to accommodate the returning Coombes.

Murray returns for his first start at number nine after making his seasonal debut off the bench last Saturday at Musgrave Park as Craig Casey drops to the bench.

Munster also keep faith with academy duo Conor Phillips and Patrick Campbell on the wings in a back three alongside Carbery.

Peter O’Mahony once again captains a side that also features two academy players among the replacements. Lock Edwin Edogbo in line for his third appearance of the season while Ireland Under-20 centre/wing Fionn Gibbons is poised for a senior debut having signed on this summer. Gibbons will cover the outside backs, as does centre Rory Scannell, who also offers extra cover at fly-half.

Connacht: C Fitzgerald; J Porch, B Ralston, D Hawkshaw, M Hansen; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; G Thornbury, O Dowling; S Hurley-Langton, C Oliver, J Butler. 

Replacements: G Stewart, P Dooley, J Aungier, N Murray, J Murphy, C Reilly, T Daly, P Boyle.

Munster: J Carbery; C Phillips, M Fekitoa, D Goggin, P Campbell; B Healy, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, K Knox; J Kleyn, T Beirne; J O’Donoghue, P O’Mahony (C), G Coombes.

Replacements: S Buckley, J Loughman, S Archer, E Edogbo, J O’Sullivan, C Casey, R Scannell, F Gibbons.

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)

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