Its the game that Irish rugby fans have been waiting for since the Lions finished, Munster Rugby play Leinster Rugby in Thomond Park (Kick Off: 6.45pm Saturday).
Jamie Heaslip will lead the squad for the 15th time for the trip to Limerick on what will be his 168th appearance for the province. The Naas man is named in a back-row which includes fellow Ireland international Kevin McLaughlin and the returning Sean O’Brien.
Mike McCarthy locks down alongside Devin Toner in an all-Ireland qualified pack, with Cian Healy named in the front-row alongside Sean Cronin and Mike Ross.
Ian Madigan starts at out-half and will make his 85th appearance and he will link up with Eoin Reddan at half back.
The squad are boosted by the return of several players including Australian Lote Tuqiri who starts at outside centre alongside Gordon D’Arcy in a new-look midfield. Brian O’Driscoll picked up a minor calf strain in training this week and will be assessed by the medical team over the coming days regarding his availability for next week’s opening Heineken Cup clash away to the Ospreys. Meanwhile, last year’s Young Player of the Year Jordi Murphy has undergone a procedure on an ankle injury and will be out for a number of weeks.
The back three is unchanged with Rob Kearney continuing at full-back alongside his brother Dave and Fergus McFadden.
Luke Fitzgerald is named on the bench having been side-lined since the opening round victory over the Scarlets and he is included fellow backs Isaac Boss and Jimmy Gopperth. Dominic Ryan’s next appearance will be his 50th in Leinster colours.
Felix Jones and Paul O’Connell who both returned to Munster action last weekend against Newport Gwent Dragons make their first start of the season this Saturday in Thomond Park against Leinster, ko 6.45pm.
Further positive news sees the return of BJ Botha and Conor Murray who are both named in the replacements.
Botha, who sustained a knee injury in Munster’s pre-season game against London Irish, has displayed great commitment to the rehab programme set out by Munster’s medical staff in getting match ready for the round five fixture.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilycoyne, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer; Donncha Ryan, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony Capt., Niall Ronan, James Coughlan. Replacements: Damien Varley, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.
LEINSTER: 15: Rob Kearney, 14: Fergus McFadden, 13: Lote Tuqiri, 12: Gordon D’Arcy, 11: Dave Kearney, 10: Ian Madigan, 9: Eoin Reddan, 1: Cian Healy, 2: Sean Cronin, 3: Mike Ross, 4: Mike McCarthy, 5: Devin Toner, 6: Kevin McLaughlin
7: Sean O’Brien, 8: Jamie Heaslip CAPTAIN
REPLACEMENTS: 16: Aaron Dundon, 17: Jack McGrath 18: Martin Moore
19: Rhys Ruddock, 20: Dominic Ryan, 21: Isaac Boss, 22: Jimmy Gopperth
23: Luke Fitzgerald
Leinster are bidding for a third successive victory on Munster soil for the first time since 1971 and Boylesports has installed the Boys in Blue at 4/9 to win the match with Munster available at 7/4.
Munster last lifted the cup in the 2010/11 season when it was called the Magners League and Boylesports has the Red Army priced at 13/2 to win the tournament outright.
Ireland’s largest independent bookmaker has a Handicap of 5 points on offer for the match with Munster (+5) and Leinster (-5) both priced at 10/11 and a tie on offer at 16/1.
Leon Blanche, Head of Communications at Boylesports said “Punters certainly think that Leinster will cover the five point Handicap and this bet has proven popular throughout the week both online and in shops.”
He added “It’s a long way to go until next May but currently Leinster are our biggest Outright liability having been already supported into 13/8 from 2/1.”