Friday, October 03, 2014

Preview - Leinster v Munster


MUNSTER : Felix Jones (Capt.), Andrew Conway, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Duncan Casey, Stephen Archer; Dave Foley, Paul O'Connell; CJ Stander, Tommy O'Donnell, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Damien Varley, Dave Kilcoyne, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Peter O'Mahony, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever.

At Aviva Stadium, 6.30pm. Live on Sky Sports
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 20th competition game)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Mark Patton (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: John West (IRFU)
TMO: Simon Mc Dowell

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Try as you might to make me apprehensive about this fixture; I assure you, you will fail.

Both teams on average form.  Injuries to key players on both sides.  The evil Matt O'Connor and his continuing mission to morph the "n" in "Leinster" into a "ce". Wikileaks in the Munster camp supposedly giving certain players an Axel to grind.  Attendances down due to dwindling interest, money recently spent of World Cup tickets, impending water charges, Christmas around the corner etc, etc, etc.

Say any of the above to me and I'll hold my hands over my ears going "na na na I can't hear you!".  I even had my eyes closed typing it.

Come on, it's Leinster v Munster!!!  

Along with Ireland v England it's one of the few cast-iron guaranteed massive clashes of the season.  The Euro pools are done by draws so can't be predicted, we don't know who will reach knockout stages of major trophies; I seriously don't believe there are many fans of either province who don't look for this fixture first when they are published.

And let's face it, with the exception of a few online looney tunes from both camps, it is definitely one of the friendlier rivalries in sports.  

The only one possible downside could be that since the venues were reversed on the calendar last season, it may appear like only yesterday when the two last played at the Aviva Stadium; in fact it was the end of March.  But even that isn't a reason to talk it down.

I will be sure to enjoy the occasion whatever the result and as has become the tradition in this fixture, a beverage or two in the Sandymount Hotel afterwards is a must where the bragging rights will be either respectfully celebrated or acknowledged. (I assure you I am not being paid to include that last sentence!)

OK enough of that, let's get into the starting lineups.  On the Leinster side the two key names for me are at 1 and 15.

Well and all as our front row did last Friday night against Cardiff, the ability to start with Jack McGrath at loose head is crucial, and not just at scrum time but also in open play because he is an excellent carrier and he and Cronin could well be expected to do much of the heavy lifting in this area.

Meanwhile Rob Kearney is the type of player who would expect 80 minutes from every start so his going off at half time at the RDS was never a good sign so it's great he can start again so soon.  If leadership has been a major thing Leinster have been lacking this season, he is one of those who can provide it.

Elsewhere in the backline I have written a lot so far this season about Reddan, Gopperth, Madigan, Darcy & Fanning, but one name that I hasn't featured is that of Fergus McFadden.  Injuries to others have bumped him around the pitch positionally so far this season but with a run of starts he is overdue a stand out display and this could very well be the time for him.

Back to the pack, I just hope Mike McCarthy isn't in penalty-shipping mood because for me it's critical that we establish a lead early.  So often in these fixtures Munster have opened the scoring with a penalty or three and on this occasion, though our bench exceeded expectations last week, I wouldn't want to have to count on it this time around.

Then there's the scrum.  Reddan is once more feeding to Cronin and Foley & his coaching staff will be well aware that this is an area where they can gain an edge.  Last week the put ins were as crooked as ever but luckily for us, Ian Davies was on the other side of the scrum each time and his assistants appeared to be asleep.  Davies is  also the man in the middle on Saturday and we surely can't expect to be so lucky again.

On the Munster side, I have to admit I haven't seen too many of their outings in full this season but their lineup particularly the backs doesn't fill me with too much worry on paper.  Of course in Conway & Zebo they have wingers who can make a lot out of even the smallest amount of space but the question is, will they ever get that space?

Where I reckon they will aim to hurt is at the breakdown.  The return of Peter O'Mahony won't come soon enough for them but since he is on the bench and they will want to contain us early, it's up to Stander, O'Donnell and Copeland and I'll tell you what, that's a quality back three and they will all be motivated to square up to Ruddock, Ryan and Heaslip.  

Leinster tried to stay away from too many breakdown contests last week but I'm not so sure they'll be able to do that again this time around.  I'm thinking we'll be bringing the ball into contact more often and it's here where the match could be won or lost.

There's no doubt that Munster have the stronger bench in terms of experience, particularly in the front row.  If the game is tight late on and the second strings are all on the park it will be a severe test for Messrs Bent, Byrne & Furlong against Kilcoyne, Varley & Botha!

You have to say that even for no other reason than home advantage, Leinster are favourites going into this one.  But cliché or no, the derby nature of this clash is always a leveller and you can be sure Munster will be primed to pounce on any mistake.

If we are allowed to establish our game plan early we could build an unassailable lead, but my worry is how we will adapt to either the Munster backrow gaining an early advantage or an injury causing our 11-15 combinations to play musical chairs as they have done more than once in this young season so far.

With this unpredictability in mind I am going for a home win but by 7 points or less.  Hold on to your hats folks!  But I'll see you for an amicable pint after whatever happens! JLP

PS - if you can make a full day of it, check out the Leinster A v Munster A match on the new Donnybrook plastic pitch, kickoff is 1pm.  Interesting Leinster lineup with Richardt Strauss back on the pitch, Cathal Marsh at 10 and Jordon Coghlan returning to the back row.  Then to fill the gap between that and the main event, wasn't it nice of the All Blacks & Springboks to schedule their Rugby Championship clash for 4pm?  I thought so...

LEINSTER 'A'
15. Cian Kelleher 14. Sam Coghlan Murray 13. Colm O'Shea 12. Tom Daly 11. Adam Byrne 10. Cathal Marsh 9. Nick McCarthy
1. Sean McCarthy 2. Richardt Strauss 3. Oisin Heffernan 4. Tom Denton-CAPTAIN 5. Gavin Thornbury  6. Jordan Coghlan 7. Josh Van Der Flier 8. Peadar Timmins
Replacements 16. Tyron Moran 17. Andrew Porter 18. Jeremy Loughman 19. Ross Molony 20. Jack Dwan 21. Luke McGrath 22. Ross Byrne 23. Rory O'Loughlin

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