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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 21 May, 2019
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Munster and Leinster set for heavyweight showdown at sold-out Thomond

Two full-strength teams makes Saturday’s festive inter-pro a mouthwatering contest.

THIS IS HOW it should be. As fervent the atmosphere and intensity is at a near-capacity Aviva Stadium, a festive renewal of battle lines between these two provincial rivals under the Limerick lights fits the bill. 

Thomond Park will be packed to the rafters later for this mouthwatering Guinness Pro14 derby [KO 5.15pm, eir Sport/Premier Sport], as Munster and Leinster go head-to-head at full strength in the latest edition of Irish rugby’s pre-eminent rivalry.

Joey Carbery Joey Carbery will come up against his native province later. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Moved from the traditional St Stephen’s Day slot, yesterday’s team announcements confirmed the intentions of both sides in what will be the 36th league meeting of the eastern and southern provinces — and this one has all the ingredients to be a Christmas cracker.

Sub-plots abound as the big guns return on both sides and Ireland team-mates put friendships aside for 80 minutes of rollicking and passionate inter-pro rugby, in front of what promises to be a febrile crowd of over 26,000 at Munster’s Thomond citadel. 

With so many Irish internationals across both teams, this also represents an opportunity for players to reinforce, or remind, Joe Schmidt of their worth ahead of the start of the Six Nations in February. 

Both Johann van Graan and Leo Cullen have made 12 changes in personnel for the second of three consecutive inter-pro games over the Christmas and New Year period, as Leinster travel south with their heavy artillery in tow.

Munster, too, are fully locked and loaded as they look to return to winning ways after back-to-back defeats on the road to Castres and Ulster, while snapping Leinster’s recent supremacy in this fixture.

The defending European champions have won each of the last four meetings between the sides, a run which stretches back to St Stephen’s Day 2016, and also includes October’s 30-22 win at the Aviva Stadium and their significant statement of intent here 12 months ago.

Furthermore, Munster’s only victory over their greatest rivals since 2014 was that Christmas win two years ago, so van Graan’s charges are desperate to produce a big performance in front of their home support this teatime.

Van Graan has been able to call upon many of his frontline internationals for the round 12 clash, but captain Peter O’Mahony is not involved in any capacity, due to IRFU player management protocol. Devin Toner appears to be in the same boat. The skipper’s armband will be worn by CJ Stander instead.

The only players retained by the hosts from last week’s defeat in Belfast are fullback Mike Haley, Jean Kleyn — who makes his 50th appearance for the province — and Fineen Wycherely, who is handed a big starting opportunity in the back row in O’Mahony’s absence. 

One of the many fascinating match-ups will be the out-half battle between Joey Carbery and Johnny Sexton, as the former comes up against his native province for the second time since his summer move to Limerick.

Carbery resumes his nascent half-back pairing with Conor Murray, while Sexton returns to captain Leinster outside Luke McGrath, as Leinster also make 12 changes in personnel from their last-gasp win over Connacht before Christmas.

Jordan Larmour scores a try despite Simon Zebo Larmour scored a sensational try at Thomond last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Both sides possess a lethal attacking edge in the backline. Munster have Haley, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls at their disposal, while the visitors will hope Larmour can reproduce his Thomond exploits in a back three alongside Dave Kearney and the effervescent James Lowe.

In midfield, Rory Scannell has an opportunity to show Schmidt why he should be included in his plans for 2019 as he comes up against Garry Ringrose and Rory O’Loughlin, while the fit-again Dan Goggin will also relish the starting chance in another derby. 

After consecutive losses, this is a crunch period in Munster’s season, and van Graan’s side will need to dictate terms up front if they are to bring Leinster down for the first time in five attempts. 

Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan is an all-international front row, Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne will look to disrupt Leinster’s set-piece and front-foot ball and the back row of Wycherley, Chris Cloete and Stander will need to be at their dynamic and assertive best. 

“Last Christmas is the one we want to give back to the fans because we let them take off in the first 15 minutes when they ran riot,” Ryan said this week. 

We need to put in a performance the fans will be happy with and we can reward them for giving us a packed house and a great atmosphere at the weekend.

“It’s important in the context of the league table. There’s a big block of games coming up but we’ll be going as strong as we can for both games against Leinster and Connacht looking to get maximum points because that’s what we need to do to catch up with Glasgow.”

As for Leinster, their heavy hitters are fresh and ready to go after a week off. 

It will be a milestone night for Cian Healy as he makes his 200th appearance for the province, having made his debut in blue against the Border Reivers in May 2007. 

Tadhg Furlong and James Tracy complete the front row while Scott Fardy is retained in the engine room alongside the talismanic Ryan, and the return of Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan boosts Leinster’s potent back row unit.

“I think lads are going down there with a bit more experience this time around and I think it will really stand to us,” Conan, who will go head-to-head with Stander, says. 

Jack Conan and CJ Stander Stander v Conan is one of several key match-ups. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The competition that they [Munster] have at the moment and the standard that it is, is going to be high, so it’s going to be a good day.”

Leinster arrive at Thomond on a seven-game winning streak, which extends to nine games in the Pro14, and Cullen’s charges have opened up a considerable 16-point buffer at the top of Conference B.

The league holders have lost just once away from home in the competition this campaign — 21-23 at Scarlets in round two — while their only defeat to a fellow Irish province in their last 10 derbies was that end-of-season humbling in Galway last April. 

Indeed, the overall head-to-head record between Leinster and Munster stands firmly in the men from the east’s favour — of the 155 meetings, Leinster have won 97, Munster 47 and 11 games have ended in a draw. 

Munster, for their part, are fully aware of the size of the task, even if they can take confidence from their strong home record, with last year’s defeat to Leinster their last in 15 outings in either Thomond or Musgrave Park in Cork. 

Vital Pro14 match points are on the line, but there is so much more at stake for both sides, none more so for Munster who are desperate to stop the rot against their neighbours and avoid the unwanted record of three straight defeats for the first time since 2015.

Leinster travel as favourites — a reflection of how the balance of power has shifted — but know they’ll need to produce their season’s best to raid Thomond for a second straight year. 

This is how Munster versus Leinster should be. Bring it on.

Munster: 

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Dan Goggin
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. Fineen Wycherley
7. Chris Cloete
8. CJ Stander (captain).

Replacements:

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. Jeremy Loughman
18. Stephen Archer
19. Billy Holland
20. Arno Botha
21. Alby Mathewson
22. Tyler Bleyendaal
23. Darren Sweetnam. 

Leinster:

15. Jordan Larmour 
14. Dave Kearney 
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Rory O’Loughlin 
11. James Lowe 
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy 
2. James Tracy 
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Scott Fardy
5. James Ryan 
6. Rhys Ruddock 
7. Josh van der Flier 
8. Jack Conan 

Replacements:

16. Bryan Byrne 
17. Peter Dooley 
18. Michael Bent 
19. Ross Molony
20. Max Deegan 
21. Hugh O’Sullivan 
22. Ciarán Frawley 
23. Noel Reid.

Referee: Frank Murphy [IRFU].

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne look back on a memorable year for Irish rugby.


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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