Friday, December 28, 2018

Preview - Munster v Leinster

In my Leinster v Connacht writeup I tried to make Leinster look like ‘the good guys’ since by this stage pretty much every European rugby fan that's not a supporter thinks the exact opposite…it was partly tongue-in-cheek yet our selection for this weekend is making me feel like it's true even more.

Much umbrage has been taken in recent years how the cotton wool is taken out for the seasonal interpros, and when you're a fan shelling out for tickets hoping to see the best play the best, these feelings can be justified.

But a compromise practise of sorts has been found over the years, one that is generally followed in the way-overworked Top14 across in France.  The idea is that you pick your best squad for the home matches and send more fringe players on the road trip to help them gain experience.

Well, it appears he boys in blue have turned that concept completely on its head; after putting out a lot of prospects against Connacht last week (yet still winning though it took a monument final quarter effort) they now send a starting XV to Thomond Park that's not a million miles from that which toggled out against Bath at the Aviva in the Champions Cup.

Now of course we badly want to win this one, but this grouping also suggests to me that we also have our eyes on the crucial Pool 1 visit of Toulouse in January. Don't get me wrong…I'm not suggesting for a second that we value this massive derby match any less than other years, rather my point is that it's a perfect chance to get the lads used to the kind of intensity we'll face when our fellow four-time champions come to D4.

And you can be sure Munster will bring the required intensity. They certainly don't need any motivation to beat us at regular times, and they  certainly wouldn't shed a tear at bringing what has been a phenomenal 2018 for us to a close on a losing note.

I can't start anywhere but the centre.  The 12 jersey was something we needed to fill for the Bath series and Rory O’Loughlin's man of the match award at the Aviva shows he's the man for the job.  He and Garry Ringrose will be well tested by a strong Munster backline.

In the pack you can't take your eyes off the lineout battle at lock.  No Devin Toner but Scott Fardy sure isn't a bad replacement is he.  Together with James Ryan they will go against Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne and there should be no easy darts throughout.

For all the talk of Leinster's dearth of talent in the back row, I reckon Munster's has been under rated of late but it has to be said the absence of Peter O’Mahony could be costly to them, even if they let him bring on the water bottles to give them occasional verbal boots up the arse!

Our trio of Ruddock, JVDF and Conan seems to have just the right amount of abilities in the areas of carrying and pilfering to make for an effective combo so a bare minimum of parity at the breakdown can be expected.

Then there are the back threes. A whole lot of try scoring power on both sides. It's hard to believe that this fixture only last season is where Jordan Larmour really started to grab attention around the league but with the likes of Earls, Conway and of course James Lowe also on the pitch there could be highlight reel moments aplenty.

And last but certainly not least, there's the match ups at half back.  After missing the October loss in the Aviva, Conor Murray is back meaning both sides have their premier pairings on show.  If he can help Joey Carbery settle into a rhythm the home side can definitely gain some traction but we all know that if you don't contain Sexton in the early stages it cold be a long evening.

So a fascinating battle it promises to be, and when do we ever expect any less from this great fixture.  The bookies have Leinster by 3 - normally I'd be inclined to be cautiously pessimistic but after our comeback last Saturday plus POM's X-factor being missing, I'm going to go for us by 4-6pts, though a lot could depend on referee Frank Murphy being able to cope with what is bound to be a bumper helping of early physicality by both sides.

Here's to another classic!!!  JLP


Guinness Pro14 2018/19 Round 12
Saturday, December 29, 2018
KO: 5:15pm
Thomond Park, Limerick

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
AR1: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)
AR2: Johnny Erskine (IRFU)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
Live on eir sport 1 & Premier Sports 2


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019