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Dublin: 15 °C Sunday 26 May, 2019
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Highly-motivated Munster bid to end Leinster's season at sold-out RDS

Leinster put their Pro14 crown on the line against their southern rivals in this afternoon’s last four showdown in Dublin.

AT THE END of another rollicking season, one of largely favourable fortunes for the provinces, there remains one final piece of business to be settled before all eyes — in this part of the world anyway — begin to look ahead to events in Japan later this year.

For either Leinster or Munster, their season ends here as the two provinces renew battle lines for this high-stakes Guinness Pro14 semi-final to be played out in front of a sold-out RDS crowd [KO 2.30pm, eir Sport/Premier Sports].

Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander Leinster and Munster are ready to renew battle lines. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The teams come into the last-four tie from contrasting positions. Leinster, the defending champions, are still coming to terms with their Champions Cup final defeat to Saracens just seven days ago, the physical and psychological toll of such cannot be understated.

Leo Cullen has made four changes to his starting XV in a bid to inject fresh energy into the dressing room, but a wounded Leinster are in a vulnerable position knowing another slip-up here would see them end a season that promised so much trophy-less.

Having being dethroned in Newcastle, the thought of surrendering their domestic crown at this juncture, to Johann van Graan’s side in particular, is not something Leinster supporters will want to contemplate. There will be no margin for a European hangover here.

Munster, meanwhile, travel to Dublin having had two weeks to gear up for the latest instalment of this storied rivalry and have openly spoken about a desperation to end their eight-year wait for silverware, a barren run that now stretches back to May 2011. 

Van Graan’s side were fortunate to get past Benetton in the quarter-finals a fortnight ago and know they will need to be an awful lot better in what is a repeat of last year’s last-four tie between these sides, but they have a certain Joey Carbery in their ranks this time around. 

Carbery has shaken off a frustrating hamstring complaint to start on what will be his first return to the RDS since last summer’s switch south, his presence at 10 the piquant sub-plot to this inter-pro derby having scored the winning points for Leinster 12 months ago.

If it’s anything like that thrilling clash, or indeed the fiery Thomond Park over Christmas, we should be in for a real treat.

Although hurting, Leinster have the chance to immediately atone for last week’s failings and having won all but one of their nine Pro14 semi-finals at the RDS, will be confident of bouncing back to book their place at Glasgow’s Celtic Park. 

Cullen’s side were utterly dominant during the regular season, romping their way to top spot in Conference B with 15 wins and a draw from their 21 fixtures, meaning they by-passed the play-off round to tee up this home semi-final. 

“For us, it’s just little learnings,” Cullen says. “The disappointment from last week is then just trying to stay on course now and refocus the minds into this week for, again, another amazing challenge.

“These games have a whole life to themselves. Formbooks very much go out on the window and it’s very much on the day. We’ll see what the conditions will be like tomorrow, it’s raining out there at the moment, because again that plays a part, and what kind of a plan do we need.

Joey Carbery Carbery will be back at the RDS in Munster red. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“So for us, we just try and prepare as well as we possibly can given the time constraints we’ve had as well.”

In making four alterations, Cullen yesterday explained his decision to start Ross Byrne ahead of Sexton, Leinster’s captain, reasoning that his team needs freshening up while the Ireland out-half, along with Scott Fardy, can provide experience off the bench later in the afternoon. 

The Leinster head coach made the same change in the pivot position after Bilbao last year, but in that case, Sexton was carrying a knock and missed out entirely, whereas here he is interestingly held in reserve having come through the training week. 

Seán O’Brien didn’t prove his fitness during Thursday’s session, thus denying the 32-year-old an RDS swansong ahead of his move to London Irish, while Rob Kearney is also absent in the aftermath of the Saracens battle. 

Kearney is replaced in the team by his brother, Dave, with Jordan Larmour reverting to fullback while the loss of O’Brien is offset by the ahead-of-schedule return of Josh van der Flier to the back row alongside captain Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan.

Significantly, Cullen has opted to reshuffle his resources on the bench with the front row replacements changed en bloc and Munster-bound Nick McCarthy drafted in as scrum-half cover, meaning there is no place for the likes of Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Hugh O’Sullivan and Jamison Gibson-Park. 

While Leinster are hoping a difficult week will have a galvanising effect, highly-motivated Munster are fresh and primed for battle.

Fit-again Carbery and Earls give van Graan’s side a huge boost, while the other surprise in the South African’s selection is CJ Stander’s role at openside, with Peter O’Mahony and Arno Botha completing a bulky back row.

“I’d heard rumblings alright, Arno Botha has been going well for them as well,” Cullen says, glancing down Munster’s team-sheet. “A big, strong, physical presence that back row that they have, so yeah we thought Botha would feature at some stage.

“They’ve a decent line-up, they’ve played a lot of games together and again it’s going to be a great physical challenge for our players as these games always are. There’s so much at stake, there’s the Pro14 this season but there’s a lot of little sub-plots as well so, it’s going to be a great challenge.”

Ruddock is expecting a physical onslaught from the visitors come Saturday afternoon.

“I think they will try and challenge us physically,” the flanker adds. “Regardless of selection, we expected that from Munster anyway. As Leo says they are a hugely competitive team and they back their set-piece and their ability to carry ball and try and dominate the collisions.

Leo Cullen and Rhys Ruddock Cullen and Ruddock during yesterday's press conference. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“We expected that long before we saw the team and obviously there is a slight change in personnel than some of the Munster teams we have played against in terms of the back row but we have seen a lot of Botha and CJ playing this year so nothing too out of the ordinary.”

Like their hosts, Munster have made four changes to their team that beat Benetton last time out, with Carbery replacing Tyler Bleyendaal, Earls taking the place of Darren Sweetnam and, in the pack, John Ryan is preferred to Stephen Archer at tighthead prop, while Botha comes into the back row for Chris Cloete.

Although they have won just one of their previous six visits to the RDS [an 18-0 win in 2008], Munster will take confidence from their victory over Leinster at Thomond Park back in December, a result which ended a run of four consecutive victories for the eastern province in the fixture.

Leinster were too emotionally charged that day, losing James Lowe to a red card and Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong to first-half yellows, and again Cullen will have reiterated to his players the need to stay disciplined in a red-hot atmosphere.

For Munster, they will look to follow the same blueprint and record a hugely significant semi-final result at the end of a couple of unsettling weeks off the pitch for the province. 

“It is Munster v Leinster and as we saw on the 29 December last year, I think it will be a big encounter, two hungry teams, they will want to get into a final and we are desperate to get into a final,” Van Graan says. 

“In terms of Irish rugby, the two previous games were sell-outs, it is 1-1 in the season. I guess the winner takes all going into the final, so I expect a massive contest.”

Leinster:

15. Jordan Larmour
14. Dave Kearney
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Ross Byrne
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy
2. Seán Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Rhys Ruddock (captain)
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan.

Replacements:

16. Bryan Byrne
17. Ed Byrne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Scott Fardy
20. Max Deegan
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Johnny Sexton
23. Rory O’Loughlin.

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Joey Carbery
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Tadhg Beirne
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. CJ Stander
8. Arno Botha.

Replacements:

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. Liam O’Connor
18. Stephen Archer
19. Billy Holland
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Alby Mathewson
22. JJ Hanrahan
23. Dan Goggin.

Referee: Mike Adamson [SRU].

Gavan Casey, Murray Kinsella and Andy Dunne look at Ireland’s past in Super Rugby, the creative shift needed in Irish rugby and Peter O’Mahony tells us about his love of gardening..:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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