Munster v Leinster – Preview

What a 2018 we’ve had as Leinster supporters! Back in May, Leinster secured a historic double at the Aviva where they won the PRO14 following their Champions Cup glory two weeks prior. That incredible momentum carried over into this season where Leinster sit very comfortably at the top of the PRO14 table. This weekend will see Leinster play their final game of 2018 and it’s fitting that they sign off with an away battle against their Irish rival, Munster at Thomond Park!

2018 has been an incredible year for Irish rugby in general, and a perfect year for the boys in blue. Whoever dreamed of a double success at the beginning of last season would surely have kept it to themselves, such would have been the arrogance to proclaim the belief out loud. However, once the new year arrived, I think most supporters started to truly believe it was there for the taking, and that’s exactly what they did. The magic that Leinster showed last season has bled into this current season and you can see it clearly on the league table where Leinster rest comfortably at the top. Having lost just one game so far in the Pro14 (away to Scarlets), they play at another level of all opposition. Today, Leinster will be looking to end a perfect year in style by capping it off with a big win against Irish rivals at Thomond Park.

Cullen has made a lot of changes to his team that put Connacht to the sword last week at the RDS. In that match, the youthful side showed huge determination in the face of defeat to come back and score three tries in the last 10 minutes to secure a bonus point victory! This week, Cullen has opted for a more experienced and rested team to travel to Thomond Park. There are a considerable amount of first choice absentees but it’s still a very strong outfit. Below is the makeup of the 23 man squad:

15. Jordan Larmour (30)  
14. Dave Kearney (128)  
13. Garry Ringrose (57)  
12. Rory O’Loughlin (51)  
11. James Lowe (22)  
10. Johnny Sexton (155)  CAPTAIN  
9. Luke McGrath (104)  
1. Cian Healy (199)  
2. James Tracy (79)  
3. Tadhg Furlong (93)  
4. Scott Fardy (32)  
5. James Ryan (23)  
6. Rhys Ruddock (152)  
7. Josh van der Flier (68)  
8. Jack Conan (82)  

16. Bryan Byrne (33)  
17. Peter Dooley (55)  
18. Michael Bent (113)  
19. Ross Molony (74)  
20. Max Deegan (30)  
21. Hugh O’Sullivan (4)  
22. Ciarán Frawley (7)  
23. Noel Reid (109) 

The 9-15 selection is filled with formidable threats to Munster’s defense and gives Leinster a huge platform to unleash try scoring plays from anywhere on the field. They are capable of ripping open defenses like wrapping paper off gifts on Christmas Day! The 1-8 combination is a thing of beauty, a battering ram poised to take down the wall that Munster will raise against the blue tide! Special mention about Cian Healy who will make his 200th appearance for Leinster today!

The bench is a bit lighter in terms of first choice options and is arguably the area in which Munster might focus some of their game plan. Taking into account that Rob Kearney, Dan Leavy, Ross Byrne, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner, Gibson Park and Andrew Porter have not been selected, it leaves a youthful but very competent bunch of replacements to see out the game when called upon.

Where the game will be won

In my opinion and as already mentioned, I think the starting 15 will be too strong for Munster to handle and I would imagine that Leinster will go into the break with a lead. My cheeky prediction is that Lowe will score first. He’s been a bit quiet over the last few games so I expect him to come out with a point of prove. The size of the lead at the break will be very telling as once the bench starts getting emptied in the second half, I think Munster will take advantage as their bench is better stocked for this fixture. So, I feel that a 10 point lead will be needed going to the second half as Munster will dominate more in the last 40. Don’t get me wrong, our bench is potent and packs a punch, but I’ve found that the Leinster bench is generally a deciding factor in these derby fixtures (last weekend being good evidence of this) so a strong performance from them will be needed, otherwise this strong and balanced Munster side will punish us. The Leinster selection is like Christmas dinner. The main course of turkey and ham is generally the biggest part of the feast, but latter that evening, some may dip into the leftovers for turkey & ham sandwiches having maybe felt that they haven’t had their full fill of festive meat! Generally, these sandwiches delight in the same way, but don’t fill a gap as much as the previous meal. The sandwiches on offer from Leinster today will need to be hearty enough to fill the scoreboard, but with that starting 15, everyone might be too stuffed to care for a sambo after watching Munster ‘Die Hard’.

Prediction

As mentioned above, Leinster has too much firepower for the red army. The experience, skill and overall appetite for success is what Munster will find hard to contain. Leinster has come out on the winning side of 7 of the last 8 meetings with Munster and once the boys in blue get into their rhythm, they’ll knock over the red army like toy soldiers!

Munster 25 – Leinster 35

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