Ah, who doesn’t love the annual trip to Limerick to see Leinster give Munster a good aul Thomond Thumping? After the cancellation of the usual fixture date of St. Stephen’s Day, Munster supporters had the rare opportunity to enjoy the Christmas period and not have to live with the dampener of another loss to the boys in blue. Instead, they’ll have to welcome a January Juggernaut heading their way to deliver a Winter Wallop.
This is the type of thing you can say after earning bragging rights over your Irish rivals. It’s mostly a bit of joking around but it’s something of a tradition to stick the knife in whenever we get the win over the red army. Of course, it’s equally returned whenever we’ve been on the losing end of this fixture, so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts!!
There’s not much I have to say here to quantify the level of excitement that the supporters are feeling and indeed the overall importance of this fixture. Normally these Leinster/Munster clashes don’t hold a massive sway on how the league will play out, it generally just gives great bragging rights over their rival. However, this time it bears a significant importance for Leinster. Munster are very much in the driving seat of their Conference, their form would need to dip significantly for them to lose out on topping the group at end of season. Leinster on the other hand are 5 points adrift of Ulster who are number 1 in Conference A. This match against Munster is one of two games in hand that Leinster has and if the results of their way, will help them reclaim the top spot on the table. As a result, there’ll be the normal bragging rights on offer for Munster should they win, but a much greater reward for Leinster if they prevail. Whether the extra motivation will be an advantage or disadvantage is a difficult to say.
So far this season, there has been little between these two sides; both have 8 out of 9 wins and are probably the best performing sides in the competition. Munster have recently got their act together and started promoting their younger crop of players into the starting lineups and they have excelled. Similarly, Cullen has been continuing to do the same at Leinster and we have an even stronger squad depth year on year.
The statistics show that Leinster have edge on Munster however, with Leinster beating their red rivals 9 out of the last 10 times. This will of course bring confidence to the Leinster squad heading to Limerick tomorrow, and will add further hunger for Munster to get a win against the champions! This will bring a lot of intrigue to the game as both sides have something they want to prove; Munster want to show they can beat the best and prove that they are once again a formidable challenge domestically and in Europe. Leinster will want to take back some control of their conference and notch up a big win against the team that is arguably their greatest challenge for a 4th league trophy lift in a row!
Here is the squad Cullen & Co. have selected for tomorrow:
15. Hugo Keenan (23)
14. Jordan Larmour (53)
13. Garry Ringrose (79)
12. Robbie Henshaw (52)
11. Jimmy O’Brien (28)
10. Johnny Sexton (170) CAPTAIN
9. Luke McGrath (138)
1. Cian Healy (225)
2. Seán Cronin (189)
3. Andrew Porter (70)
4. Scott Fardy (68)
5. James Ryan (44)
6. Rhys Ruddock (183)
7. Will Connors (22)
8. Caelan Doris (36)
16. Rónan Kelleher (18)
17. Ed Byrne (61)
18. Tom Clarkson (4)
19. Ross Molony (105)
20. Jack Conan (97)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (98)
22. Ross Byrne (94)
23. Josh van der Flier (88)
Look at that starting 15, it’s a sight to behold! 14 internationals, and one very talented newcomer (Jimmy O’Brien) make this our strongest team sheets this season. It’s a great sign of intent for Leinster but not surprising given the cancellation of the European fixtures last week. Some noteworthy selections is at centre where we see Garry Ringrose return from a jaw injury. He has been missed and will be a great addition with Henshaw outside him! Sean Cronin starts again which is great to see after he was more known for being sprung from the bench on most occasions.
On the bench, we have another 6 internationals, and a big opportunity for newcomer Tom Clarkson to cement a place in the squad. Ross Molony will also bolster the squad with add extra strength to the pack and lineout should he be brought on in the latter stages of the match.
It’s such a pity that James Lowe and Dave Kearney are not included, I think having them on the wing would be the icing on the cake in terms of selecting the perfect starting 15.
It’s really great to see so many lads who were pretty much unknown just over a year ago make it into the starting lineup and pretty much nailing down the jersey for themselves. Lads like Doris, Connors, O’Brien and Keenan; they have been sublime for Leinster and now with recent Irish call-ups, their confidence is growing nicely. Their inclusion today, along with the rest of the internationals, will give them an opportunity to show Andy Farrell that they deserve selection for the 6 Nations next month. The squad will be announced next week so I can only assume that the players will have an extra point to prove tomorrow night.
Munster’s bench is arguably stronger, it lists a lot more regular squad players who you’d imagine have probably developed more cohesion with the rest of the group. That being said, I think the starting 15 for both sides tells its own story; both locked-and-loaded teams will be aiming to inflict as much damage as possible from minute one to the extent where the bench may not have as big a bearing as other fixtures.
Where the game will be won
We all saw how Munster clawed their way back from almost being demolished by Clermont last month in the Champions Cup. Clermont had secured a try bonus point within 28 minutes of the first half and Munster looked to be all but out. However, they chipped away at the scoreboard, kicking three points after three, and it eventually paid off with an incredible comeback, leading to victory. Munster will do the same to Leinster if our discipline dips. Leinster will need to keep the errors to an absolute minimum which has been tricky for the over the last few games. We seem to get turned over and lose lineouts far too often to the point that our opponents are targeting it. Leinster don’t have any other major weaknesses so keep an eye out for Munster players piling in our rucks and competing aggressively at every lineout.
Another key area will be the attack. Munster’s try scoring stats haven’t been overwhelming recently, whereas Leinster’s is extremely impressive. Having played 9 games this season, Leinster has scored at least 4 tries per match. If Leinster can keep up this try-fest run of form, I feel Munster will struggle big time as the blue wall is very difficult to penetrate.
Munster have turned a corner this season, they look a lot more in control of their game, they have the ability to switch things up and vary their game. The younger players introduced into the squad have added much needed freshness to how they go about executing their game-plan. Leinster has not yet reached their best form yet in my opinion; while their performances overall have been impressive I just feel that they have a lot more to give, and they need to improve especially if they want to dominate in Europe again this year.
There just aren’t many other teams that have the skill, power and overall ability to turn a fully stacked Leinster team over. As much as Munster have looked impressive, and as much as the Munster ref and two Munster touch judges will want to support them 😉 , I think they will leave with another loss to the boys in blue, and more lessons to ponder.
My cheeky prediction is that Sexton will score a try in the first half.
Munster 19 – Leinster 29
Match day result: Munster 10 – Leinster 13