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O’Gara Leads Munster on Saturday

December 24, 2009 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

Although they are without some of the personnel that served them so superbly in Perpignan last Sunday, Munster show a strong hand for the St Stephen’s Day Magners League clash with Connacht at Thomond Park Stadium.

Nine of the side that recorded that victory in the Stade Aime Giral are absent as is Denis Leamy who suffered the disappointment of an ankle injury in the last play of the game that rules him out for at least four months.

However, the man who pulled the strings, Ronan O’Gara, leads the side on Saturday and two of the try scorers, Denis Hurley and Jean de Villiers are also included in the starting line-up while Man of the Match Paul Warwick can be called on from the bench should the need arise.

Ireland A international Felix Jones gets a run at full-back and Ian Dowling replaces Doug Howlett on the left wing.

It’s a game that provides Munster with the opportunity to get their Magners campaign back on track according to Mick O’Driscoll. “We wouldn’t be at all happy with our form in the League. Its something we’ve spoken about and need to address. This game provides not only the chance to do that but also gives lads theopportunity to put their hands up.”

After the high of last weekend the possibility of complacency won’t be an issue according to O’Driscoll. “Not all.” he says.  “The changes freshen things up and brings a different impetus to the side. Connacht have done every bit as well as us in Europe these past weeks and they’ll be full of confidence. So no, we know what we’ll be up against. These game are never a gimme. Never easy.” 

Meanwhile, full-back Gavin Duffy will captain a Connacht side strengthened by the return from injury of centre Keith Matthews and flanker Johnny O’Connor.

Munster: Felix Jones; Denis Hurley, Tom Gleeson, Jean de Villiers, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara capt, Peter Stringer; Julien Brugnaut, Damian Varley, Tony Buckley; Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan; Billy Holland, Niall Ronan, N Williams. Replacements: Mike Sherry, Wian du Preez, James Coughlan, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, Paul Warwick, Scott Deasy.

Connacht: Gavin Duffy capt; Troy Nathan, Niva Ta’auso, Keith Matthews, Liam Bibo; Miah Nikora, Conor O’Loughlin; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Jamie Hagan; Michael Swift, Bernie Upton; Mike McComish, Johnny O’Connor, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Dermot Murphy, Ronan Loughney, Andrew Browne, Ray Ofisa, Ian Keatley, Kierran Campbell, Aidan Wynne.

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O’Gara Pulls The Strings

December 27, 2009 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

Although he only played for the first forty minutes or so, Ronan O’Gara played a pivotal role in Munster’s return to winning ways in the Magners League at Thomond Park Stadium.

By the time O’Gara had departed the scene, Munster led 20-3 and although they ran out 35-3 winners in the end, their second half performance was somewhat below what had been seen in the first half with O’Gara pulling the strings.

Besides his 100% kicking return – that included a touchline conversion and a 40+ metre penalty – O’Gara was involved in all that was good about his side’s display, mixing deft chips over the top with raking positional kicks plus the odd jinking dart that kept the vistor’s defence on it’s toes.

Tony McGahan also used the occasion to give youngster Tom Gleeson, Scott Deasy, Duncan Williams, Billy Holland and Mike Sherry and he’ll have been pleased with their contribution especially Holland, Gleeson and Deasy who, with Paul Warwick already pressed into action probably earlier than anticipated, came on as a half time replacement for O’Gara.

Warwick came on as a 15th minute replacement when Felix Jones sustained a neck injury in a clash of heads with Johnny O’Connor. His cut-out pass sent Ian Dowling in for the opening score and he scored his side’s third try in the 71st minute. But although they dominated that second half almost completely it did take them that long to get the third while the bonus arrived courtesy of Jean de Villiers with just seconds of normal time remaining.

Overall the game itself was in safe keeping by half time thanks to those tries from Dowling and Damian Varley and the boot of O’Gara. Munster lost their fluency in a scrappy second half but credit to them for being patient enough to claim those late tries and the bonus point.

Munster: F Jones ( P Warwick 15 min); D Hurley, T Gleeson, J de Villiers, I Dowling; R O’Gara (capt) (S Deasy ht), P Stringer (D Williams 72 min); J Brugnaut, D Varley ( M Sherry 76 min), T Buckley; M O’Driscoll, D Ryan; B Holland (T O’Donnell 62 min), N Ronan, N Williams (J Coughlan 62 min).

Connacht: G Duffy (capt); T Nathan, N Ta’auso, K Matthews, L Bibo; M Nikora, C O’Loughlin; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, J Hagan; M Swift, B Upton; M McComish, J O’Connor, G Naoupu. Replacements: D Murphy, R Loughney, A Browne, R Ofisa, I Keatley, K Campbell, A Wynne.

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