Munster's settled centre could hold the key in Pro14 semi

Fatigue may or may not be a factor for Leinster, but they will be without key personnel in their defensive setup.

THE LEVEL OF fatigue in Leinster’s bones is an unquantifiable variable we can all toss into the mix when thinking through where Saturday’s Pro14 semi-final may be swayed.

However, even if the magic worked by Leinster’s S&C team makes those levels negligible seven days on from their gruelling Champions Cup final win, the after-effects from Bilbao could offer openings for Munster.

Rory O'Loughlin with Peter O'Mahony Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Robbie Henshaw, a powerful pillar of the Leinster defence, will definitely miss out. The natural replacement Isa Nacewa was limping heavily through the celebrations and Johnny Sexton’s groin was a concern, so the hosts in the RDS could conceivably field a back-line showing five alterations.

Whether it is Rory O’Loughlin (one of three unused replacements in San Mames) who partners Garry Ringrose in midfield, the required tweaks in the centre along with the return of James Lowe on the wing should give Munster areas to exploit.

Tactical kicking from Conor Murray, the back three and whoever fills the out-half jersey was the primary pressure tool touched on by Johann van Graan this week. But they go to Dublin with a settled and nicely balanced midfield in the shape of Rory Scannell and Sam Arnold, and they will be in prime condition to add a little cut to the thrust Munster are intent on imposing on the eastern province.

Rory Scannell celebrates at the final whistle Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I think there was a bit of an emphasis on our kicking game going into Edinburgh,” says Scannell. His left boot provides an extra tactical kicking option, but if Munster are to beat Leinster in the RDS, you suspect they will need to score tries.

“We do need to adapt if the run is there we need to take it. We went for it a few times and probably our pass quality let us down a bit.

I think you’re going to get few opportunities in semi-finals, especially Leinster. You might only get one or two try scoring opportunities at the weekend, but I think we will definitely need to adapt to do our best to take them.”

Through the wreckage of their Champions Cup semi-final loss to Racing, there were many laments and much soul-searching about why Europe’s final four has continually been the limit of Munster’s campaigns since 2008. Although Celtic competitions don’t hold the same appeal in the southern province, they have gone one step closer to attaining the ‘domestic’ title.

On Saturday they will bid to make their third final in four years. They know the path as well as the three recent champions who remain in contention, they just haven’t been able to take those vital last steps.

“There probably is an element of frustration there,” adds Scannell, “last year, it was my first year involved in knock-out rugby and you think: ‘ah look, we have next year again’. But for some guys there isn’t a next year.

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“We have to bear that in mind as well as younger lads in the squad that it is some guys’ last opportunity, other guys might only have one more opportunity. It’s frustrating for those guys, so I just don’t think we can keep let these keep slipping by and we have another great opportunity.

Rory Scannell Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“It’s (about) turning that frustration into motivation that you are still in the mix and you still have a chance to win a trophy this year. That is what our aim was at the start of the year, so we still have a great opportunity and we are looking forward to Saturday.”

Whatever bodies Leinster muster for the contest, Scannell the playmaker will be keen to move them around, just to test out how much fatigue they take with them into an intense inter-pro.

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Sean Farrell

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