Munster v Ulster - RaboDirect PRO12 match preview
Last Updated: 29/12/12 5:10pm
Ulster will be looking to break Leinster's best ever start to a PRO12 season with victory against local rivals Munster at Thomond Park.
The runaway leaders are well out in front of the opposition after recording their 11th straight win in the 27-19 success over Leinster at Ravenhill last Friday and will be looking to make it 12 by Saturday evening.
The Ulstermen have won all three games against fellow Irish provinces this season, but so far all those encounters have been at Ravenhill.
With a large contingent of players involved in an Ireland training camp in Dublin this weekend and with Ulster comfortably 14 points clear of Munster, Mark Anscombe has opted to use an all Irish-qualified squad - making a total of eleven changes to the starting XV.
Only Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall in the backs, and Neil McComb and Robbie Diack in the forwards are retained from the side which beat Leinster.
Adam D'Arcy will make his first start of the season at fullback and will be joined in the back three by youngsters Chris Cochrane and Gilroy. Michael Allen will partner Luke Marshall in midfield, with Paul Marshall and Niall O'Connor forming a new half back combination.
Up front, Callum Black, Rob Herring and Adam Macklin make up an all new front row, while Lewis Stevenson has returned from an eight week injury lay off to partner McComb in the engine room. Roger Wilson will captain the team from number 8 and he will be ably assisted in the back row by Mike McComish and Diack.
Munster got back to winning ways after the disappointment of the Heineken Cup loss to Saracens with a hard-fought 16-12 win over Connacht at the Sportsground last weekend.
The Munstermen have only suffered one defeat in their last five fixtures, which came at the hands of Scarlets in November, while Ulster have not won at Thomond Park in the competition since 2009.
Full-back Denis Hurley will become the 25th Munster player to win 100 caps while Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Ronan O'Gara all return as head coach Rob Penney makes a total of eight changes.
Although O'Mahony, Murray and Zebo start, O'Gara is named on the bench with Ian Keatley retaining the number 10 jersey though this time he'll start alongside Murray in place of Peter Stringer.
There's a return from injury for Damian Varley and Felix Jones (bench) while Donncha O'Callaghan and Billy Holland are the only combination up front who remain intact from a week ago.
Ulster: A D'Arcy, C Cochrane, M Allen, L Marshall, C Gilroy; N O'Connor, P Marshall, C Black, R Herring, A Macklin, L Stevenson, N McComb, R Diack, M McComish, R Wilson.
Replacements: N Annett, R Lutton, T Court, A O'Connor, A Birch, M Heaney, S Olding, R Andrew.
Munster: D Hurley; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D O'Callaghan, B Holland; P O'Mahony, T O'Donnell, P Butler.
Replacements: M Sherry, M Horan, S Archer, Dave O'Callaghan, J Coughlan, P Stringer, R O'Gara, F Jones.
What they said...
Munster hooker Damien Varley
"Ulster are on an unbelievable roll, there is no doubt about that. But they have been growing for some time now. It has just clicked for them this season. Their win over Leinster last weekend was very impressive.
"They have some great players up there and they are running away with it at the top of the table.
"But it would be a great way for us to finish 2012 by winning against them. We have a few big weeks ahead of us, Cardiff follow this one and then we have the two Heineken Cup games, two must-win matches with bonus points and all that needed.
"There is a lot of rugby to be played this season but we are looking no further than Ulster tomorrow."