Munster v Connacht, Musgrave Park, TONIGHT 5.45 – TG4
THE encouraging words of British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland about the prospect of Paul O'Connell making the tour to Australia must have come like music to his ears.
The Ireland giant has suffered for so long in the shadows cast by a succession of injuries. There was never a time when Alun-Wyn Jones could measure up to him as a player or a leader.
Now, the Wales second row is touted as a definite for Australia. If O'Connell can stay injury free and get back to the levels that made him a world-class lock, he will be in with a shout.
Personal ambition aside, Munster needs a change of attitude and intent. Enter O'Connell. There is no greater motivator.
Connacht coach Eric Elwood has resisted the urge to parachute Ireland lock Mike McCarthy into his second row, preferring to stay with Mick Kearney and George Naoupu.
This is obviously done with one eye on the best interests of the club, with McCarthy on his way out in the summer. Captain Gavin Duffy is also found on the left wing due to the rapid rise of Ireland U20 Robbie Henshaw, who will surely be on the Ireland tour to North America.
Munster: F Jones; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, D Hurley; R O'Gara, C Sheridan; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, T O'Donnell, S Dougall, J Coughlan.
Connacht: R Henshaw; D Poolman, E Griffin, D McSharry, G Duffy (capt); D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White, M Kearney, G Naoupu, A Browne, W Faloon, J Muldoon.