Leinster v Munster; this fixture never fails to catch the full attention of the rugby purist, the fans of each province especially who not just want, they NEED their team to succeed. Such is the immensity of the rivalry and the subsequent bragging rights on offer that come from this match up! And as always, the home game for Leinster will be based at that Aviva stadium which of course will host a sell out attendance, as well as the usual massive intrigue from the media……. Well, on this occasion, not quite!
Yes, this is huge game for both provinces, but not for the usual reasons. This is the very first Pro14 fixture to take place following 5 months of postponement. The two teams will prepare for this game like a new season has just started, but in reality it’s the tail end of a current season. It’ll involve massive mental preparedness from two teams who have not played a competitive match throughout this period, probably the longest layoff in their careers to date. A lot of things will be different when the 2019/20 campaign resumes today; no supporters in the stadium, no run of form coming into the game to analyse, and of course, a bigger focus on the return of rugby getting the highlight of the media attention as opposed to the huge spectacle of this inter-pro face off.
All of this being said, what impact the very extended period of time off from play will have on the players, as well as the coaches, will be very interesting to see. What impact will the lack of supporters have on the mindset of the players on the field as they jog out onto an eerily quite 52,000 seater stadium? Will both teams be very rusty, will the hosts have any advantage from playing at home? Do we tear up the statistics and form analysis and just jump into a new unknown era of professional rugby? Time will tell in many aspects but there are a few clues as to how this game might go to, very much based on the discussions and preparations both teams have been making over the last few months.
Munster have brought in three new signings into their squad; one from Saracens (Matt Gallagher), and two world cup winners from South Africa, RG Snyman and Damian de Allende.
There has been a lot of excitement and anticipation about the two South Africans in particular who will undoubtedly have a very positive impact on both the performances of the team on match day, but also behind the scenes in training. Having people who have been victorious on the highest stage will bring great experience and belief into the team and I’m sure we’ll see their pedigree in full show this evening. Of course, both will start for Munster so make sure to keep an eye out for them, RG Snyman in particular who is a man mountain!
The Munster coaches have been hit with a COVID-19 case in the academy squad recently and this has had a knock on effect to the senior squad who had to cancel training in Limerick for a day or two as a result. Normal training resumed on Monday of this week so this may not have impacted their preparations too much. However, it provides a warning to all teams that this pandemic is far from gone and a lot of work must continue to maintain the player welfare and safety of the entire group.
Overall, Munster has selected a very strong team who will be highly motivated not only just to beat their rivals, but claim top spot in Conference B, and hopes of a home semi final in two weeks’ time.
Below is the Leinster team selection:
15. Jordan Larmour (46)
14. Dave Kearney (148)
13. Garry Ringrose (72)
12. Robbie Henshaw (44)
11. James Lowe (43)
10. Johnny Sexton (163) CAPTAIN
9. Luke McGrath (123)
1. Cian Healy (216)
2. Rónan Kelleher (11)
3. Andrew Porter (62)
4. Ryan Baird (7)
5. Scott Fardy (58)
6. Caelan Doris (29)
7. Josh van der Flier (80)
8. Jack Conan (89)
16. Seán Cronin (181)
17. Ed Byrne (52)
18. Michael Bent (135)
19. Devin Toner (244)
20. Will Connors (15)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (88)
22. Ross Byrne (84)
23. Max Deegan (62)
From the pack to the backs, this selection is full of incredible firepower. Starting with the back 3 of Larmour, D Kearney and Lowe. It’s good to see Larmour at fullback, I think this could turn out to be his best position given the danger running he’s known for, he can literally make something out of nothing with that fantastic step of his. The fullback roll will give him more opportunities to thwart defenses. Dave Kearney, currently the leading try scorer in this season’s campaign was in flying form before the break. Then there’s Lowe, well what needs to be said there? He’s become such a key man and solid performer for the boys in blue, and given his form against Munster over the last 3 encounters against Munster, he’s always up for this particular fixture, and rightly so 😉
In the center, we have the sturdy and powerful combination of RingShaw, who have been a great partnership over the last couple of seasons. Sexton and Mc Grath take up the half back pairing, two highly experienced international who will be crucial in controlling the tempo and territory in this match.
The front row is made up of Healy, Kelleher and Porter; Power, Power, Power. Furlong misses out due to a minor back injury during the week. Elsewhere in the pack, we have Baird who will be looking to stake a claim as a regular starter for Leinster; so far the signs look very good. Fardy, Doris, Van Der Flier take up the 5-7 spots and again just scream power! Jack Conan will make his debut match of the season after returning from injury he picked up last September in the World Cup.
On the bench we have 5 Irish internationals and regular starters for Leinster. Keep an eye out for Will Connors who arrived to Leinster with a bang, he’s relentless in attack and has become a great poacher of the ball in the breakdown.
Where the game will be won
Given the very long layoff period, no one should blame any of the players for showing some rustiness in this match, after-all none of these players have been out of the game for this long when fully fit. I expect to see a lot of penalties being awarded on both sides due to some fumbles of the ball, mistakes in the breakdown, and general discipline. As a result of this, the out halves will be called up more than usual to dictate the game’s flow, whether than be kicking for touch or taking shots at goal. Whichever out half succeeds more in this area will be probably the biggest defining factor in deciding who’s victorious. That being said, given the anticipation of lots of errors in this match, you can expect many scrums and lineouts to come from that. So, the set piece will be crucial. Both hookers will be tested regularly, and the scrummages will need to keep things very tidy and strong each and every time.
Both teams are on a level playing field in terms of potential rustiness and that unknown factor which a silent stadium will bring to their mindsets. I feel that although Munster are bringing in their 3 marquee signings for their first game in the Pro14, I don’t expect them to just hit the ground running and find the form everyone is expecting to see. After-all, they just arrived and will need to bed into the squad before they truly find their feet. I think this will have an impact on the overall flow of their game with Munster taking a basic approach to their attack and defense. Leinster on the other hand are relying on a very familiar selection that you’d see in the Champions Cup, a squad that know each other inside and out and have experienced great successes together. Despite not playing together competitively for the last few months, I think that muscle memory will kick in and we’ll see strong evidence of that incredible cohesion we witnessed before the lockdown. Cheeky prediction, Dave Kearney to score the first try.
Leinster 23 – Munster 16
Match day result: Leinster 27 – Munster 25