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Dublin: 15 °C Tuesday 21 May, 2019
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Foley's Munster and Cullen's Leinster look to relaunch their seasons in Thomond Park

This Christmas inter-provincial comes with plenty on the line.

BOTH LEINSTER AND Munster welcomed the focus of an important inter-provincial fixture this week, providing them with the opportunity to move on from the gloom of their European campaigns.

Andrew Conway celebrates his try with Paddy Butler Munster recorded a 28-13 win when these sides met last December in Thomond Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster are out of the Champions Cup after four defeats in four games, while Munster have left themselves with major work to do after back-to-back losses to Leicester Tigers in which they failed to notch even a losing bonus point.

December has been a difficult month for Anthony Foley and Leo Cullen, the homegrown coaches who took up their provincial jobs with an understandable amount of goodwill behind them but have both been criticised by frustrated fans more recently.

A win over their inter-pro rivals would be a soothing balm for both men heading into 2016, as they attempt to salvage their seasons. Munster can possibly still advance in the Champions Cup if they win all three remaining pool fixtures in January, but Leinster must work their way into the top two of the Guinness Pro12 as soon as possible.

Generating momentum will begin for one of these sides tomorrow in Thomond Park (KO 5.15pm, Sky Sports), and the fact that several of Ireland’s leading internationals are involved adds to the sense of occasion.

This time last year, virtually all of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland players were withdrawn from the fixture under the IRFU’s player management programme, and Munster ran out 28-13 winners to ensure a 2014/15 season double over Leinster.

That was a morale-boosting victory for Foley’s men, but even if the crowd fails to match last season’s sell-out of Thomond Park, this fixture has a greater sense of importance around it.

“It’s a huge game, it’s massive,” says Leinster scrum-half Eoin Reddan. “Both teams are very frustrated with themselves, both are looking for big performances.

CJ Stander scores a try after losing his jersey CJ Stander lost his jersey in the act of scoring in 2014. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Internationals wanting to play well and two coaches who care passionately about the teams they coach and who hurt more than anybody else when they lose.

“They probably put more into it because of that than anybody else, so from the top to the bottom of the two clubs it is going to be a huge night. The fans will love it with the day of the year that it is on. The way it has fallen this year with the way the training week is a bit better as well.

“It was a bit disjointed last year so it is going to be a big game and very tough for us away from home at that time of year.”

Reddan expects a full-blooded fixture between the sides, but stresses his hope that the loser of this tie won’t continue to be written off and criticised. His hope is very unlikely to be a reality.

If Munster are to lose, that would be three defeats in Thomond Park on the trot. A loss for Leinster would surely lead to further despair about the direction in which the province is perceived to be heading under Cullen.

The war won’t be won or lost for Foley or Cullen tomorrow, but this particular battle will leave its mark.

Leinster

15. Zane Kirchner
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Luke Fitzgerald
11. Isa Nacewa
10. Ian Madigan
9. Eoin Reddan

1. Jack McGrath
2. Sean Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. Tom Denton
6. Dominic Ryan
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

16. James Tracy
17. Cian Healy
18. Marty Moore
19. Ross Molony
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Cathal Marsh
23. Dave Kearney

Munster

15. Andrew Conway
14. Keith Earls
13. Francis Saili
12. Denis Hurley
11. Simon Zebo
10. Tyler Bleyendaal
9. Conor Murray

1. James Cronin
2. Mike Sherry
3. BJ Botha
4. Dave Foley
5. Donnacha Ryan
6. Robin Copeland
7. Jack O’Donoghue
8. CJ Stander (c)

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. John Ryan
19. Billy Holland
20. Tommy O’Donnell
21. Tomás O’Leary
22. Rory Scannell
23. Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino

Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU)

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Leinster confirm Ben Te’o is leaving the province at the end of the season

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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