Hands up who’s still gutted after last weekend’s result?!
It wasn’t to be for the boys in blue in their 5th Champions Cup final. No matter what they did on the day, it just wasn’t good enough. The Leinster lads were surely very disappointed by the result and maybe some key decisions and plays throughout that game made it an even tougher pill to swallow, and I’m sure they’ve reviewed it to death throughout the week. BUT, what a perfect way to get over the cup final blues than another shot at glory the following week! No matter how the lads are feeling, I’m sure they are all chomping at the bit to get back out there and put everything on the line again in front of their loyal home supporters. After all, there’s a Pro14 title to defend and another trophy up for grabs should they be victorious tomorrow. And of course, if that’s not enough motivation for them, they will be facing provincial rivals Munster, need I say more?
The game tomorrow puts both teams in the same scenario as last season, facing each other again in the Pro14 semi final at the RDS. Last time around, Leinster came out on top by one point (16-15) but Leinster very much had control of the game for the vast majority of the 80 minute battle.
Leinster will have major motivation to go out and win this weekend after the heartbreak of last weekend. They will likely be still a bit battered and bruised (mentally and physically) but that hurt should spur them on to ensure that feeling doesn’t reoccur after the final whistle is blown. Munster on the other hand will be sick and tired of getting to semi finals and losing, they have been a major feature of the last few semi finals in both the Champions Cup and Pro14 but keep coming up short. They will want to deliver a huge performance against a Leinster side that may be a little fragile this week. They have some key men back like Keith Earls and Joey Carbery that will be able to inject another level of skill and energy into their side’s performance. There will be a little bit of desperation in there too given their track record over the last few seasons. News came out of Munster during the week that two of their coaches, Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery, will be leaving the club at the end of the season. It’s yet to be fully outlined the reasons behind their decisions but that will have an impact on Munster’s preparation this week.
Let’s take a look at the team selection from Cullen:
15. Jordan Larmour (37)
14. Dave Kearney (135)
13. Garry Ringrose (63)
12. Robbie Henshaw (35)
11. James Lowe (28)
10. Ross Byrne (69)
9. Luke McGrath (111)
1. Cian Healy (206)
2. Seán Cronin (171)
3. Tadhg Furlong (100)
4. Devin Toner (230)
5. James Ryan (29)
6. Rhys Ruddock (159) CAPTAIN
7. Josh van der Flier (71)
8. Jack Conan (87)
16. Bryan Byrne (40)
17. Ed Byrne (43)
18. Andrew Porter (51)
19. Scott Fardy (42)
20. Max Deegan (44)
21. Nick McCarthy (34)
22. Johnny Sexton (158)
23. Rory O’Loughlin (60)
There’s four changes to the starting 15 that took on Saracens last week. Rob Kearney will miss out this weekend so Larmour switches to full back. Dave Kearney has been brought in to fill the wing in Larmours absence. The centre partnership of Henshaw and Ringrose remains unchanged which is great to see given how well they performed against Saracens. James Lowe has got the nod to start on the other wing, his dynamism, power and work rate will be crucial. Sexton will take up a spot on the bench which gives Ross Byrne an opportunity to take centre stage at out half. Byrne started the previous Pro14 semi final and excelled, and given he got no match time last weekend, he should be fit and firing to go!
There’s two changes in the 1-8 positions; Scott Fardy has been moved to the bench, giving way to Rhys Ruddock who will also captain the side. The one other change sees the return of Josh Van Der Flier who replaces Sean O’Brien.
On the bench, apart from the players already mentioned, we see Tracy, Deegan and O’Loughlin retain their positions following last weekend. Bryan Byrne and Ed Byrne have been brought back into the squad, along with Andrew Porter and Nick Mc Carthy. It’s a strong lineup and one that contains just the right amount of experience required at this stage of the competition. Sure there’s only 14 Irish internationals in the starting 15, and another 5 on the bench!!
Munster too have selected a strong, rested team! They have had the advantage of preparing for this game for the last two weeks and will undoubtedly have a strong game plan prepared to try and topple Leinster. This squad will be highly eager to start the game hard and fast in the hope of unsettling Leinster early. This will be helped by the return of Earls and Carbery who Munster have clearly missed over their last few games. With those two lads back, their attacking strength and threat will increase.
Take a look at the match ups below from 1-23 on both sides, you can clearly see where each side has the advantage. Personally, I think Leinster certainly has the more experienced players to manage their opposite numbers in most key areas.
Where the game will be won
Munster will certainly come into this game fresher than Leinster, after all they’ve had two weeks off. They will also have potentially a stronger or at least more structured game plan than ours, again since they’ve had two weeks to prepare. This alone should give them not only the confidence, but the ability to control some areas of the game better than Leinster. The result of course will come down to how well Munster can execute their game plan and how Leinster respond.
Leinster will come into this game after a massive loss in Europe, the first final they’ve lost in their history of being in that competition. We can only imagine the kind of impact that has had on the players and the toll it’s taken on their preparation for another huge game 7 days later. Of course, this is professional sport and I’m sure the players know well that nothing but their best is what’s required this week to come out victorious. That being said, the flip side of course is that their training this week might have been very sharp and ferocious given their collective need to bounce back and go on to win some silverware this season.
Ultimately, I think the most interesting element of tomorrow’s semi final will be the game plan that both teams deploy. Surely, in a game with such rivalry, both teams will want to come out all guns blazing. I feel that Munster will try just that, and Leinster may feel their way into it given that they have a stronger ability of varying their approach to their opponents. I feel that a particularly stronger game plan will be required from Leinster, the team’s individual super star quality will not be enough in this match. The team that wins will be the one that collectively deploys a strategic game plan that nullifies the threats posed by their opponent. Munster probably know that they won’t beat Leinster by playing like Leinster, and they’ll be under no illusion that Leinster will not pbe too beaten up from last week to turn up for this game. They will know that their season’s best is required and due to how desperate they are to progress and compete for silverware, they may try to hold onto the ball, starve Leinster of possession, and tire out the wounded boys in blue using their superior fitness levels. No offence to Leinster, but you’d imagine a well rested Munster side will come into this game a good bit fitter!
Leinster v Munster is always a tricky one to predict. On paper, I always feel that Leinster are far superior, but on the scoreboard, the results are generally very tight, even on home soil. I think Leinster will go into this game feeling that they have a second chance, another shot to prove to their supporters, coaches, and of course themselves that they are the team to beat. I think they’ll channel this and pour their hearts into this game. A few of the players mentioned during the week that they were in awe of the support they got last weekend, and that they want to repay them for the support they’ve given. I think that will translate into the performance tomorrow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Leinster come out to control and dominate the game from minute 1-80. The best way to get over a final loss is to get yourself back into another final a week later. My cheeky prediction is that Lowe will discover his try scoring form again and score the opening try. I expect Leinster to have a slow start but around 10 minutes in, they’ll find their rhythm and put on a great show for the supporters, perhaps a performance that leaves more daylight on the scoreboard than recent meetings!
Leinster 27 – Munster 15
Match day result: Leinster 24 – Munster 9