Munster v Leinster – Preview

Christmas is almost here and what a cracker of a PRO14 fixture we have in store on St. Stephen’s Day! Definitely the oldest rivalry in Irish rugby history and arguably the biggest in Europe, the world, the universe…..you get the picture! This game has huge significance to both clubs for many reasons. Of course there’s the bragging rights on offer for both sides and their supporters, and some very valuable festive points on the line to keep the fight for table topping success alive. But there’s also massive learnings and a lot of questions to be answered for both teams following the final whistle. Both sides most certainly use these specific home and away fixtures as a benchmark to define where they are as a team in terms of cohesion, mental strength and collective readiness to take on the challenges required to hopefully lift silverware at the end of the season. When these two heavyweights collide, it evokes many emotions for both sets of teams and supporters, stirring hope and confidence for the victors and instilling doubt and disappointment for the defeated.

After coming out on the winning side of their home fixture back in October, Leinster will be looking to secure a victorious double on their rivals in front of a sold out Thomond Park. Munster on the other hand will be looking for revenge and will be eager continue their impeccable home form this season.

Both sides have chosen a lot big guns for this game, there’s very little rest for some lads (particularly for Munster) who have just finished the very gruelling back to back Champions Cup fixtures. Needless to say, there was no motivating required from either coach to get their lads up for this game so they should be fired up and ready to rock on the 26th.

Munster is practically unchanged from last weekend, they have all of their top players for this game. Below is the team selection for Leinster (numbers in brackets denotes caps):

15. Jordan Larmour (10)

14. Barry Daly (16)

13. Rory O’Loughlin (31)

12. Robbie Henshaw (18)

11. James Lowe (1)

10. Ross Byrne (37)

9. Jamison Gibson-Park (40)

1. Jack McGrath (121)  CAPTAIN

2. James Tracy (53)

3. Michael Bent (97)

4. Devin Toner (207)

5. James Ryan (7)

6. Jordi Murphy (95)

7. Dan Leavy (45)

8. Jack Conan (63)

16. Richardt Strauss (150)

17. Ed Byrne (14)

18. Tadhg Furlong (74)

19. Mick Kearney (26)

20. Josh van der Flier (56)

21. Nick McCarthy (14)

22. Cathal Marsh (25)

23. Noel Reid (90)

Believe it or not but there’s a whopping 10 changes to the starting 15 that defeated Exeter last weekend. If you ever needed evidence of Leinster’s incredible strength in depth, this team sheet will more than prove it.

The backs look very potent for Leinster, all like to score tries for fun and will thwart Munster’s defence throughout the 80 mins. Don’t take your eye off James Lowe who will get his second cap out on the wing for the boys in blue. I’ll make a cheeky prediction that both Lowe and Barry Daly will bag tries in this match. I don’t expect a lot of tries in the match but I feel that an expansive game plan will be deployed by both sides which will give space and opportunity to the backs, as the man said; “forwards will win the match, the backs will decide by how much.”

Munster also have a very impressive back line in Conway, Sweetnam, Scannell and Earls. These guys are very seasoned and battle hardened players capable of penetrated the most stubborn of defences. Leinster will need to have their strongest defensive structures in place in order to limit any breaches.

Where the game will be won.

Both sides will go all out in this game and do everything they can to come out on the winning side. I feel that penalties will be helpful but tries will be ultimately crucial. I expect the result to be defined by the ambition and endeavour of the forwards but the winning margin will be determined by who crosses the whitewash more. This is where the backs will come in as there’s very little between the two sides up front. Munster has their best winger Simon Zeno on the bench. I feel this is because they want to score a lot of 5 pointers and finish the game strongly with a nice try or two from the influential winger. A bold move but potentially a very wise one.

Leinster’s bench has some potency of its own in Noel Reid, Van der Flier and Furlong who will provide great cover when called upon. Keeping Furlong and Van der Flier on the bench was a great move by Cullen as these two are surely not at 100% following such an energy sapping battle last week at the Aviva Stadium but given the enormity and importance of this upcoming fixture, their leadership and skill will be very much utilised and welcomed in the second half.

Fitness will also play its part too as there are a number of players who haven’t had a breather in many weeks. Fixtures don’t get much bigger than this and with such an immense derby, it will no doubt be a bruising encounter requiring physical and mental strength for the entirety of the match. Both teams have great hunger and are fuelled by the history of this rivalry, so no motivation will be required. Doing the basics right, keeping the error count down, and maintaining accuracy in the red zones will be key to the winning of this game.

Prediction

This will be a close game for vast periods of the match but I expect a small bit of daylight on the scoreboard for the victor going into the final quarter. We all know that both teams have great quality throughout the starting lineup and the bench, so I believe that physical fitness will be the difference towards the end of the game.

Leinster has made a lot more changes to their lineup than Munster has. I feel this will be telling for the men in red who will face a tough physical battle from Leinster’s much changed but highly skilled 23 man squad. Leinster will have just a little more in the tank to keep the tempo just a little higher than the home side.

Munster 18 – Leinster 25

2 thoughts on “Munster v Leinster – Preview

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