Friday, December 27, 2019

Preview : Munster v Leinster

"Anyone know what the recommended sanction is for ‘removing an opponent's scrum cap and throwing it at him’? I'm assuming someone thought to write that one down somewhere and give high-, medium- and low-end punishments for the benefit of citing commissioners? Seriously though, while it was far from the nastiest incident it defined the entire match.
'Seeing Red', HarpinOnRugby match writeup for Munster v Leinster, Dec 2018 

Much will be forgotten when this match kicks off in Thomond Park on Saturday evening.  What semifinal win back in May? What World Cup?  What 12 wins in a row?  Both teams are top of what conferences?

No matter what else is going on in a particular campaign, the partisan rivalry surrounding this great fixture has always meant it is shielded from anything else going on in the general rugby universe.  After eighty minutes, one lot will have bragging rights, the other won't, and that's that.

This particular installment of the ongoing saga, however, does have one bit of history that may be difficult to shift from the memory banks, namely the corresponding meeting last season.  This is because there are so many similarities between the two occasions. 

For example, both times, Leinster rocked up into Limerick with the word "perfect" being bandied about when describing them.  Also, both Scott Fardy and James Lowe return to the scene of their respective crimes last December.  But the biggest returning feature has to be that of Frank Murphy taking the whistle yet again.

In my writeup of last year's match I made it clear that I did not blame the game's lack of discipline on him, nor did I think for a second that there was any type of favouritism towards Munster on his part.  

The way I saw it, the home side set out to rile us up, we let them, and paid the price.  And I suppose if I didn't think it was his fault, I shouldn't have a problem with him being in the middle once again, yet I do.  IMO that was a match that needed to be forgotten, yet re-appointing him does nothing but give us analysts a pre-cut narrative from which to work.

Hopefully, nothing like last season's handbag-fest will happen again, because we all know these two provinces are more than able to serve up great contest without all those distractions, whether they have full-strength teams out or not.  

It comes as no surprise that a titanic struggle in the forwards is to be expected.  Leinster's backrow one-arm bandit has thrown up another top notch trio of Josh Murphy, Will Connors and Caelan Doris (with Scott Penny in reserve) but they will be severely tested by the equally capable Tommy O'Donnell, Chris Cloete and Jack O'Donoghue.  Frank Murphy will have his work cut out sorting out those breakdowns that's for sure!

And at halfback, while unlike last season the fixture is graced by neither Murray nor Sexton, Ross Byrne along with JGP should not be overawed by the occasion, and although JJ Hanrahan is no slouch, all eyes will be on the return of Joey Carbery to top flight action and he is sure to feature at some point of the contest.

But for me, the biggest matchup of all is in the centre.  Both Rory Scannell and Sammy Arnold have always impressed me for Munster and we have a young yet talented pair of O'Briens facing them in Conor and Jimmy, with another one, Tommy, on the bench.  Perhaps the tries may come from the likes of Lowe and Daly, and perhaps the big turnovers may come from the likes of Connors and Cloete, but I have a feeling when full time arrives it will be the performance of a centre, whether it be good or bad, that could prove the difference in this one.

The bookies can barely separate the two sides with their points spread, throwing a nod to the boys in blue but only by a point.  I do think we can prevail, partly because of a determination to get this defensively back on track after letting Ulster hit us for six last Friday.  That doesn't mean Munster will be lacking in determination however, and if we do finish on top I can't see it being by more than 3 to 5 points.

Best wishes to all those travelling and here's to a classic that is memorable for all the right reasons.  JLP

#COYBIB

Munster: 15 Mike Haley; 14 Dan Goggin, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly; 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Nick McCarthy
1 Dave Kilcoyne, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 3 Stephen Archer; 4 Fineen Wycherley, 5 Billy Holland (C); 6 Tommy O’Donnell, 7 Chris Cloete, 8 Jack O’Donoghue.
16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Jack O’Sullivan, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Calvin Nash.

Guinness Pro 14 2019/20 - Round 9
Saturday, December 28, 2019
KO 6pm
Thomond Park
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
AR1: George Clancy (IRFU)
AR2: Chris Busby (IRFU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)
Live on eir Sport 1, Premier Sports 2, SuperSport 1, DAZN, pro14.tv

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