Leinster v Munster – Preview

Another week, another derby. This week it’s the old rival Munster, emphasis on the “old.” The media seem to love to hype up these matches, one week it’s the Connacht fixture being a grudge match for Leinster and season defining, then the next week the archives are stormed to find footage and stats to show how the Leinster v Munster rivalry is the bitterest in Europe! The fact remains however, this rivalry has become bland, predictable and one sided in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very aware and have fond memories of the real rivalry that existed between the two sides a number of years ago, but it’s just not there for me half as much anymore. Leinster has become the strongest force in Europe over the past couple of seasons and has left the other provinces behind in terms of the where the bar is set in Ireland. No more are these interpros an indicator for Leinster on where they are in terms of form, it’s more so used as a measurement for the other three provinces to see how strong they are. Munster has become a team that fight hard and deliver great glimpses of skill and passion in the league and Europe each season, but consistently fail when the chips are down. This has kept them in a holding pattern in Ireland in that they are below the standard expected to lift silverware, and in turn are solely rivals in history with the boys in blue, but on match day, the reality is they are nowhere near the same level. That said, theres no denying that they are absolutely a quality side and the supporters will be relishing kick off at the Aviva this evening. With only one win here since the 2014, our visitors will be looking to test themselves against the best and get the better of their provincial rivals neighbours.

Munster are fully stocked for this game, they have selected all of their most experienced players and look formidable on the team sheet. Leinster too have a very strong side selected even though Cullen has made 11 changes since last week’s victory over their biggest rivals EVER, Connacht!

The most noteworthy of Munster’s selection is at 10 where we’ll see former Leinster double champion Joey Carbery take to the field in very familiar territory but this time in Munster colours! It will be interesting to see how much of an impact Carbery’s inside knowledge (which has surely been shared with his new club) will have on the game.

Below is the match day 23 for Leinster:

15. Rob Kearney (199)  
14. Fergus McFadden (172)  
13. Rory O’Loughlin (45)  
12. Robbie Henshaw (27)  
11. James Lowe (16)  
10. Ross Byrne (53)  
9. Jamison Gibson-Park (55)  
1. Jack McGrath (133)  
2. James Tracy (70)  
3. Michael Bent (108)  
4. Devin Toner (221)  
5. James Ryan (17)  
6. Rhys Ruddock (145)  CAPTAIN 
7. Dan Leavy (55)  
8. Seán O’Brien (117)  

16. Seán Cronin (157)  
17. Cian Healy (194)  
18. Andrew Porter (34)  
19. Mick Kearney (38)  
20. Josh van der Flier (63)  
21. Luke McGrath (99)  
22. Noel Reid (102)  
23. Dave Kearney (124) 

Not too shabby given the amount of positional and player changes since last week. James Ryan will return to the fold. This lad still hasn’t tasted defeat in the Leinster jersey, and will be looking to extend that winning streak beyond this weekend. There’ll be a great battle of 10’s as Byrne will face off against Carbery, while Sexton gets the weekend off.

Robbie Henshaw is back and will be partnered by Rory O’Loughlin in the centre. Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden and James Lowe make combine to create a very solid back three, with Larmour also getting a couple of well deserved lie-ins over the weekend!

Jack McGrath is back from injury and gets his first start of the season with Tracy and Bent forming the front row. In the pack from 4-8 we have Toner, Ryan, Rudduck, Leavy and O’Brien. There’s huge strength and experience piled into the pack which will make for a very bruising encounter with what the opposition have to offer. O’Brien starts at 8 which is not a familiar position for him, I wonder what the strategy is there, either Cullen is looking to build depth in this role or while out injured for many months, O’Brien has been focusing on flexibility in terms of providing coverage in various positions. This in turn makes him even more valuable to the squad. Whichever the reason, if last weekend’s performance is anything to go by, we can expect to see some of his best form again today! If Cullen is to change the front row in this game, Sean Cronin, Cian Healy and Andrew Porter will be available to him, three lads very used to starting matches in big fixtures! That kind of firepower just isn’t matched by any other side in the Pro14, and Munster must be wary of that threat.

The bench has been Leinster’s strongest weapon over the last couple of seasons. No other side is able to put so many world class players on the sideline and again today, we see some really high calibre performers ready to stake their claim on the game if/when called upon. Josh Van der Flier, Luke McGrath, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney and Mick Kearney will also be on hand to provide strong coverage too. All in all, a very capable and balanced 23 selection from Cullen!

Where the game will be won

These Leinster v Munster games generally follow the same principles; attack hard from the first minute to assert dominance upfront, control territory, and win the aerial battles. The score lines are generally quite close with on average 5 tries scored by the time the final whistle is blown (3 tries to 2 in Munster’s favour the last two meetings). There’s generally around 4 points between them by the end and discipline is order of the day as both sides don’t need a second invitation to punish their opposition’s mistakes.

I expect a similar spectacle this evening with Leinster scoring the first points off the boot of Byrne followed by one or two penalties from both sides before the break. I expect the second half to be the moment where the shackles are taken off and we start to see a more open game.

Prediction

With the weather looking dry and a huge turnout at the Aviva, I expect a high tempo game from both sides. I think Leinster will take the lead early and won’t lose it from there. There might be a couple of close moments for the home side where the lead and game could be snatched from Leinster but the bench especially will prove too strong for Munster.

Leinster 27 – Munster 20

Match day result: Leinster 30 – Munster 22

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