Friday, December 26, 2014

Preview : Munster v Leinster


You're welcome, Munster!  On behalf of Leinster fans, we hope you enjoy our (albeit one day late) Christmas present to you...a sold out Thomond Park ;-)

OK before the red-clad keyboard warriors prepare their retaliation I'm only messing - the RDS has hardly been packin em in this season either so relax - just a bit of festive banter to kick off my preview!

Speaking of festive...is there any chance we can get the mainstream media to refrain from calling this match a "Christmas cracker" as a present to those of us weary of unoriginal puns?  It's right up there with "Italian job" whenever we play Treviso or Zebre...

Anywho...on to matters at hand.

On paper, form (at least when it comes to results) points to an away win.  Also, player personnel would seem to point to an away win, as Leinster's replacements for injuries and player protection seem to have the edge over their opposite numbers.

Then again we must factor in the fact that it's Munster, playing Leinster in front of the famed 16th man of Thomond.  If anything can send the "paper" through the shredder it's that, and this could well be why the bookies have a home win by 4 points.

So...what's it to be?  Well, I reckon the spread will be vindicated, maybe by fewer points, but there is definitely a way Leinster can come out on top...stay away from a dog fight in the forwards.

This of course would mean straying away from what we have become accustomed to doing this season...and to be fair, it was our pack which helped us build our lead against Connacht last week, but this is arguably the most potent backline Leinster have put on a rugby pitch since the BOD/Isa/Shaggy/Sexton days, so it would be a shame not to use it.

First and foremost, for all of our constant calls for Ian Madigan to start in the 10 jumper, Matt O'Connor has finally granted us our wish...in a massive derby clash with no game or two beforehand to prepare maybe, but still it's what we want to see and Mad-dog is certainly the kind of player who had hit the ground running.

On top of all his gain-line busting options around him from 11 through 15 he has been known to drop his shoulder and charge ahead himself so it will come down to choosing the right options in the right scenarios today.  

All I'd be worried about is that he'd be expected to take the option of grinding out the phases too often which could play into Muinster's hands.

Obviously I don't expect our pack to be left out of the equation altogether, and when it's time to front up it could boil down to who keeps their cool the longest - no doubt the experienced campaigners on show like Shane Jennings, Mike McCarthy and Donncha O'Callaghan will be employing the "dark arts" to the fullest in order to get that edge.  Luckily Nigel Owens has the whistle because it will take a strong-willed ref to stay on top of it all.

Of the Munster players I'll be expecting top performances from the likes of skipper for the day Felix Jones, Robin Copeland and Tommy O'Donnell - those looking to catch Joe Schmidt's eye on a big occasion.   That's not to mention their "double-initial" brigade of CJ Stander, BJ Botha and JJ Hanrahan, each able to turn a contest around in their own way.

It should be tight, it should give us plenty to disagree over afterwards, it should be full of drama.  In other words, it should be a typical Munster v Leinster clash. 

My prediction is for Munster to win by 3, but I'm certainly not ruling out a Leinster triumph.  If I were Matt O'Connor I'd play the DVD of October's match in the Aviva on the coach down to Limerick...if that doesn't motivate the boys in blue to play to their fullest today, nothing will.

Here's to us all being buddies again in time for New Year's!  

#COYBIB  JLP

LEINSTER : 15. Zane Kirchner 14. Darragh Fanning 13. Luke Fitzgerald 12. Gordon D'Arcy 11. Dave Kearney 10. Ian Madigan 9. Isaac Boss
1. Michael Bent 2. Richardt Strauss 3. Tadhg Furlong 4. Mike McCarthy 5. Kane Douglas 6. Dominic Ryan 7. Shane Jennings>CAPTAIN 8. Jack Conan
BENCH : 16. Aaron Dundon 17. Maks Van Dyk 18. Jamie Hagan 19. Tom Denton 20. Jordi Murphy 21. Luke McGrath 22. Jimmy Gopperth 23. Noel Reid

MUNSTER : 15 Felix Jones>CAPTAIN 14 Andrew Conway 13 Pat Howard 12 Denis Hurley 11 Ronan O'Mahony 10 Ian Keatley 9 Duncan Williams 
1 John Ryan 2 Duncan Casey 3 Stephen Archer 4 Donncha O'Callaghan 5 Billy Holland 6 CJ Stander 7 Tommy O'Donnell 8 Robin Copeland.
BENCH: 16 Kevin O'Byrne 17 Eusebio Guinazu 18 BJ Botha 19 Dave O'Callaghan 20 Paddy Butler 21 Neil Cronin 22 JJ Hanrahan 23 Johne Murphy

Guinness PRO12 - Round 11
At Thomond Park, 5pm St Stephen's Day
Live on TG4/BBC Alba
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 116th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Stuart Gaffikin (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
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