Friday, April 01, 2022

Preview : Munster v Leinster



"We’ve been best friends for the last 10 weeks and as soon as you put on a different colour jumper, all of that’s left at the door and the rivalry begins."

See? James Lowe gets it. He always has since he arrived. Maybe he "got it" a bit too much back in the 2018 version of this fixture but even then you could tell he was at least fired up for the occasion. I'd just like the contest to be physical while still remaining 15 v 15 as much as possible.

I know this matchup brings up a lot of badness especially online, but for me the answer isn't to ignore the match altogether or indeed to make sure every good/bad thing you say about one team gets followed up by a good/bad thing about the other. Rivalries like this can take enjoyment of sport to a whole new level, if you know how to treat them right.

This particular vintage is unusual for many reasons. First up, i has been a while for Munster to be on a "winning streak" against us, one they'll be hoping to extend to two on Saturday evening (see, in my head, that last line is supposed to be an example of "treating it right", apols if you don't agree) to follow up on the Rainbow Cup win at the RDS just under a year ago.

But it's also unusual for us to be gone this deep into a season without playing our southern cousins. Normally you could set your rugby calendar to the home and away fixtures, one in October before the Champions Cup pool games begin and one in April before the knockouts. This time the Christmas COVID cancellation moved it to now while a certain Ed Sheeran determined it would be at Thomond.

And it's not like there's nothing at stake beyond the rivalry either. Leinster may be sitting pretty atop the URC but with two against Munster plus the South African trip which seems to be getting more challenging for each team that goes down there, our 5-point cushion could evaporate very quickly. Munster have a lot to play for as well but victories in their final four matches will put them in contention for 1st place (not to mention the Irish Shield) themselves.

Plus there's the small matter of the Champions Cup for which both sides are trying to get their Six Nations internationals settled back into the squad quickly ahead of 2-legged meetings with Exeter Chiefs and Connacht respectively.

So with all that at stake let's have a look at the two matchday squads and see how they stack up.

BACKS

I was definitely expecting some returnees to the starting lineup but nowhere near this many. And the name I'm happiest to see there for this fixture is Jamison Gibson-Park. While it's tough to argue about any award being given to Antoine Duponte, I really think as an out and out 9 JGP was much more valuable to his team over the Six Nations than his French counterpart, but anyway while Luke has done well recently, I'm happy to see this pecking order.

And what a back three he and Ross Byrne have to go looking for gaps in what is bound to be a stingy Munster defence. We know Lowe will be fired up and Keenan will be Mr Dependable, and joining them is Jimmy O'Brien who has earned his place in our European plans and knows where the tryline is.

Then after a series of enforced experimentation in our centre where it seems we landed on a Frawley/Osborne axis for the future, the pairing of Henshaw and Ringrose is as solid as you're going to see in blue right now, with the latter taking over the captain's duties.

FORWARDS

First thing that jumps out of the Leinster pack is of course the back row, namely the same trio which Andy Farrell tapped for the green jersey and no doubt their opposite numbers will be looking to prove those decisions wrong which should make for a classic battle.

I might have some concerns in the Front 5 - while both Messrs Toner and Dunne are more than capable of doing a job neither has had much game time at this level, in fact I think it's over a year since Jack Dunne started for us. And like I always say, the lineout is something that has to run smoothly throughout so James Tracy has no room for error when it comes to hitting his jumpers.

BENCH

But whatever doubts I may have in our starting pack, if they can manage to keep the match a contest going into the final half hour, the quality on the bench plus the 6/2 split definitely makes me confident for a late Leinster flourish. Even with Andrew Porter unavailable, Healy Sheehan Furlong is some combo to have in reserve.

Then you have Ross Molony who has really stepped up this season and will be keen to make a mark in this fixture with Josh Murphy and Max "I always get on the score sheet somehow" Deegan also down for a late shift.

Just the two backs lying in wait, but good ones in Luke McGrath and Ciaran Frawley who can of course cover both the 10 and 12 positions really comfortably although the hope will be that we won't need either of the two before the 60th minute or so.

OPPOSITION

During the week I got an opposition view on the podcast from Munster fan Michelle Tobin - she had a go at selecting their 23 and wasn't far off of it although she would have preferred (and I'd concur) if Craig Casey had started. Instead it's Conor Murray along with Joey Carbery so we'll see how they plan to find a way through our own tackling which has so far this season tended to remain solid for a full 80.

In the centre it's irresistible force meets immovable object with DDA and Chris Farrell aiming to evade Robbie & Garry, with a back three of Daly, Nash and Gallagher round off the backline.

But like I said before, it's the back ROW where the challenge lies and Messrs O'Mahony, Cloete and Coombes certainly have the class and clout to make the breakdown a battlefield, with the promising former Under 20s start Alex Kendellen on the bench.

And for all the talk that there has been about Jason Jenkins moving to Leinster next season, now as fans we get to hope he doesn't impress us all too much as he has finally recovered from injury and by all accounts played well last week against Benetton.

PREDICTION

When I first saw the ref was from the Premiership I thought : "well, so long as it isn't the guy who missed last week's latest instalment of Owen Farrell's Dodgy Tackles"

Then after a quick bit of research I said : "Doh!"

But hey...I've always said you shouldn't doom any ref to a poor performance before a whistle has been blown, although having gotten so used to Frank Murphy being in the middle for this pairing I guess it's a case of "careful what you wish for"...

Anyway, here's hoping there's no controversy on the discipline front and while I think we'll have to work really hard to match the bookies' prediction of a six point victory, I have to back this group of 23 to do it, once our set piece can function and the discipline is good.

GET INVOLVED IN THE DISCUSSION

Once again a Leinster match shares top billing on a Saturday with the Six Nations and best wishes to Greg, Nichola and all the Irish squad who have their work cut out against France, we will of course be following their progress via the Twitter machine.

Then in the evening we'll be covering events down in Thomond so be sure to join us in the discussion and as the full time whistle blows head on over to the Facebok page and look for the graphic which invites you to "feel free and leave your thoughts". Here's to a fired-up yet still-fairly-disciplined derby! JLP

Munster : 15 Matt Gallagher; 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Shane Daly; 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Conor Murray
1 Jeremy Loughman, 2 Niall Scannell, 3 Stephen Archer; 4 Jason Jenkins, 5 Fineen Wycherley; 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 7 Chris Cloete, 8 Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 John Ryan, 19 Thomas Ahern, 20 Alex Kendellen, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Keith Earls.

United Rugby Championship 2021/22 - Round 15
Saturday, April 2, 2022
KO 7pm
Thomond Park

Referee: Christophe Ridley (RFU, league debut)
AR 1: Chris Busby (IRFU) 
AR 2: Peter Martin (IRFU)
TMO: Craig Maxwell Keys (RFU)

Live on: RTÉ, Premier Sports, SuperSport & URC TV

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