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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 21 May, 2019
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'In theory it's not must win against Munster but it's an important game nonetheless'

Two provinces collide at the Aviva Stadium tonight with more than bragging rights on the line.

Cullen in training during the week.
Cullen in training during the week.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

ON DERBY DAY the stakes couldn’t be any higher but Leo Cullen has moved to take the pressure off his team by insisting this evening’s clash [17.30] against Munster is not a must-win one.

Leinster have lost their last two outings and head into a crucial inter-provincial tie with their southern rivals knowing another slip-up would loosen their grip on a home semi-final.

But Cullen maintains that defeat to Anthony Foley’s charges at the Aviva Stadium wouldn’t derail their bid to end a mixed season with silverware.

“Is it a must win game? We’ve four games left, if we lose and we still win the next five we still win the Pro12 so in theory probably not no,” the Leinster head coach said yesterday.

“But it’s an important game nonetheless. There is pressure on both teams. Everyone wants to progress into the semi-finals.

“We have lost two games on the bounce and we just want to get back to winning ways, there is enough pressure involved in that and in what we want to do in terms of delivering a performance in the Aviva Stadium in front of our supporters.”

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking at yesterday's pre-match press conference. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Leinster have come unstuck of late, losing to both Connacht and Glasgow, after a run of form which saw them surge up the standings after the disappointment of European elimination.

With the Irish internationals returning to the set-up, Cullen believes the preparation has been as good as it could be this week for a second consecutive derby.

“Guys have prepared well this week,” he continued. “There is always some soul-searching that goes on after losing a couple of games so we just need to focus in on what’s important for us to deliver a performance.

“External factors like must-win games and who it is more important for are not really important to us.

“It will still be important for both teams if we were twelfth and they were first because it is a rivalry that has been there for many years and they are great occasions.”

Johnny Sexton, who announced himself during one of the great recent occasions between these two rivals back in 2009, returns in one of nine changes Cullen has made from the one-point defeat in Galway.

Anthony Foley Foley has also been boosted by the return of some big players. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan also return as the home side opt for experience for a game expected to be played out in front of over 40,000 fans at Lansdowne Road.

“We’re slowly putting steps back in p,ace to build towards the rest of the season,” Cullen continued. “Four games left and what we hope then is two play-off games after that. It’s about how we navigate our way through the next four games.

“We prepare as well as possible and deliver on the things we’ve been working on at training and see how we go.

“The last time we played in the Aviva Stadium, we lost [to Toulon]. We performed very well in the first-half and created a lot of opportunities. But, we allowed the opposition back into the game.

“It’s important we start the game well.”

Munster come into the teatime showdown off the back of a 47-0 hammering of Zebre last weekend, but Anthony Foley has made five changes to his side.

The southern province are strengthened considerably with the return of CJ Stander, Conor Murray and Francis Saili as they look to avenge December’s defeat to Leinster at Thomond Park.

Munster’s Johnny Holland Holland gets another chance to shine this evening. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Foley sprung a surprise in his team selection with Johnny Holland retaining his place at out-half after an impressive performance last time out.

It’s a big decision to throw a 24-year-old into the heat of battle on an occasion of this magnitude but from what Cullen has seen, the Cork man is deserving of his chance.

“Based on what I’d seen over the last couple of weeks we knew there was a chance he’d start,” Cullen said of Holland. “He came on in that Cardiff game and acquitted himself well.”

With neither province in European action next week, they’ve been able to concentrate their efforts on the Pro12.

It means both teams can go full throttle at each other this evening in the knowledge they have a fortnight to recover before their next assignment.

It’s a fixture which has all the ingredients to be a classic. Let’s hope it delivers.

Leinster

15. Zane Kirchner
14. Isa Nacewa (c)
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Ben Te’o
11. Dave Kearney
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Eoin Reddan

1. Jack McGrath
2. Sean Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. Hayden Triggs
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

16. Richardt Strauss
17. Cian Healy
18. Mike Ross
19. Ross Molony
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Luke McGrath
22. Ian Madigan
23. Fergus McFadden

Munster

15. Simon Zebo
14. Andrew Conway
13. Francis Saili
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Johnny Holland
9. Conor Murray

1. James Cronin
2. Niall Scannell
3. Stephen Archer
4. Donnacha Ryan
5. Billy Holland
6. Dave O’Callaghan
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. CJ Stander (captain)

Replacements:

16. Mike Sherry
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. John Ryan
19. Robin Copeland
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Tomás O’Leary
22. Ian Keatley
23. Darren Sweetnam

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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