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Dublin: 18°C Sunday 13 June 2021
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'There is a worry that Thomond Park isn't a hard place to go to and win now'

We sat down with Stuart Barnes, Alan Quinlan and Paul Wallace to discuss today’s big game.

Sky Sports pundits Stuart Barnes, Alan Quinlan and Paul Wallace were at the Guinness Storehouse to promote Sky Sports exclusive live coverage of the Guinness Pro12 match between Leinster and Munster.
Sky Sports pundits Stuart Barnes, Alan Quinlan and Paul Wallace were at the Guinness Storehouse to promote Sky Sports exclusive live coverage of the Guinness Pro12 match between Leinster and Munster.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WITH THE SENSE that the rugby season is really hotting up with today’s highly-anticipated Leinster-Munster clash at the Aviva Stadium, TheScore.ie sits down with three of the game’s most respected pundits to discuss the upcoming clash…

What have you made of the Pro12 so far this season?

Stuart Barnes: It’s good for the tournament that we’ve had two non-Irish teams going well. It was pretty close to GAA in its dominance, apart from Ospreys, and the fact that Glasgow and Ospreys are doing well is a really good boost to the tournament.

The favourites haven’t made the start that the English and French [favourites] have made. In France, Toulon and Clermont, as you’d expect are doing well, while in England, Saracens, Northampton and Bath have come out hard. You look at it here — Leinster have played some good rugby, but they’ve been scruffy. Munster aren’t in gear yet. Ulster have lost a game to Zebre. So it’s interesting that of the big teams, only Glasgow have come out fast.

Are Leinster and Munster worse off than other years?

Alan Quinlan: I think so. Leinster and Munster are not firing. They both lost two games each. Leinster away from home and Munster at home, which is worrying. In any league, you want to win your home games and sneak a few wins on the road. You don’t suddenly [up your game] after four or five rounds.

They both have some defence for being slow, with injuries. But Munster don’t have the same depth that Leinster do. I think Donnacha Ryan, Keith Earls, Mike Sherry and Damien Varley were the big losses, particularly Varley in that pivotal position as a hooker, providing physicality up front. Leinster have more depth with Jack McGrath and Rhys Ruddock coming in for Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy. And there’s the email situation with Munster, it’s just been all negative news. There is also some concern around the 10, 12 and 13 channel that have been highlighted by a lot of people.

If they have a full team out on the field, they can do well and worry a lot of people. The worry is when Paul O’Connell is not there, Peter O’Mahony’s not there, Conor Murray’s not there. How are they going to fare on the road in the Pro12? You need to pick up wins in those international windows, so they need a win quickly.

But there’s no Brian O’Driscoll, no Leo Cullen, no Shane Jennings for Leinster tomorrow. Both Leinster and Munster have been slow starting.

Leinster have a good record against Munster of late…

Quinlan: Anytime we’ve played Leinster, the intensity and emotion goes up a couple of levels. It’s always been a great fixture. But Munster have been poor against Leinster recently. Leinster are going for five-in-a-row. It’s uneasy in Munster when that’s happening, and you have to give Leinster respect for it. But Munster have a little opportunity, as Leinster are a bit different. You get these opportunities in sport when there are a lot of negatives and suddenly, you take on a challenge and front up

Wallace: The Munster-Leinster derby is the one where it all comes in. There’s a hell of a lot of injuries in all three of the big provinces when you consider that it’s the start of the season. These guys should be rested up.

Munster at home and Munster away is a huge difference. What’s more worrying is that teams are suddenly going to start going ‘it’s not intimidating anymore’. Whether it’s the belief in the team or the crowd, it’s just not there. They still haven’t settled on a style — are they going to play the wide game or stick to the traditional game. For me, it has to be back to the future, as the older-style game is still very difficult to beat.

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BJ Botha dejected Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

(The Munster players look dejected during their game with Ospreys)

Quinlan: Munster are not going well, they’re a bit disorganised. When we were in the stadium the other week, Ryan Jones said to me ‘where’s all the crowd gone’. Last Saturday was probably the easiest day in your life to stay at home and watch sport. The hurling, the Ryder Cup, the soccer… It’s GAA country and people are slow to get back into the rugby. Playing in a stadium with 26,000 is always going to cause issues unless you have a massive game. They’re redeveloping Cork at the moment. That Ospreys game would have been in Cork if it wasn’t being redeveloped. They pick Thomond Park sporadically, where traditionally people have come out for the day out. So it’s not as big an issue as people are making out, but there is a worry that Thomond Park isn’t a difficult place to go to and win now.

Barnes: I played there for a schoolboy team, but since then, I’ve been back for Heineken Cup matches, and I found it intimidating just broadcasting, always the noise, going into the changing rooms that media and players shared and you see people like [Sebastien] Chabal shaking. It was that factor of intimidation. It was the reason… As Alan said — winning habits are great, but losing habits are equally hard to break. Some teams are now saying ‘we can win here’. Once teams start doing that, it becomes harder. Having half-full stadiums is giving the opposition an advantage. Thomond Park in the Heineken Cup has got to be worth between 10 and 12 points.

Wallace: The intensity thing in Thomond Park is quite irrational. There are 50:50 decisions that the crowd will call for.

You think maybe they are playing a bit loose and maybe the forwards don’t have that little model where they know what they’re doing. It’s also a team that picked itself over 10 years and they were so familiar. Now it’s all these new combinations and they don’t know what structure they’re playing. If they were to go back a step and have a very simple gameplan, it might be easier.

Barnes: What’s happening now is exaggerated. Leinster have lost to the best team in the competition, Glasgow, and to Connacht on a scrappy Friday night. They’ve got them to come at home. They’ll probably beat them at home doing what Munster do. You look at their record at home and they do not lose. That tells you the power has swung. Munster are looking to bloody a nose. The reality is that Leinster are expecting. You win games when you think ‘we will win this’. It’s a deep belief, not a superficial one. I watch Leinster play and you feel it. The Leinster crowds are expecting a victory and there’s an aura. It’s not there at Munster anymore.

Wallace: There’s such an edge because of competition for the Irish jerseys. That’s what Munster can bring to the game, because they all have more points to prove, with what’s been in the media with the leaked documents and all. Psychologically, I think Leinster have more in the bag though.

Sky Sports has more Irish rugby than ever before including Guinness Pro 12, European Rugby Challenge and Champions Cups and the Irish Rugby Guinness Autumn test series. Sky customers can call 0818 719819 to avail of some great half price Sports offers.

Richardt Strauss will get his season under way against Munster A tomorrow>

Analysis: Breakdown speed key for Leinster against Munster’s slowing strength>

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