Although it may have lost some of the spice in recent years, Leinster versus Munster is still one of the tastiest fixtures on the domestic calendar.
Leinster have been sluggish this year, but have won all but a single game. Munster are coming off the back of a huge win against Ulster. Their record is not as good, with two losses so far, but they appear to be playing more consistently.
|Van der Flier||20||Cloete|
|Dave Kearney||23||R Scannell|
Leo Cullen has taken the more cautious approach of the two managers, choosing to rest Johnny Sexton and putting van der Flier on the bench after a brilliant display last week. Munster will probably play this exact team next week in Europe, barring injury.
The thinking is that some players, such as Leavy and Sean O’Brien, need the game time to get match fit, and the six day turnaround before we welcome Wasps to the RDS means that Leinster have to think further ahead.
This could be the weakness that Munster can exploit. It’s not much of an opening — Leinster are still fielding side brimming with international players — but at this level, if there is a chink in your armour, that is where the enemy has to strike.
Leinster won all three games against Munster last year, with the semi-final of the Pro 14 the closest score at 16-15. Ross Byrne was wearing the number ten jersey on that occasion and had a solid game. He also guided his team to steal the points in Thomond at Christmas. Maybe not such a weak spot after all.
Sean O’Brien looked good last week, but he will have tougher competition from the Munster back row this week. Let’s hope he gets the ball in his hands today. While he is awesome at the breakdown, it is his ability to make hard carries through defenders that we’ve missed during his time on the sidelines.
The breakdown is becoming a bit of a car crash, especially where the Leinster defence is involved. Last week Connacht were simply overpowered and driven back. Today will be different — CJ Stander won’t allow the blues to dominate so much — less one-sided but just as much of an arm wrestle.
Both packs match up well, with enticing battles in the front and second rows. Leinster have more experience on the bench. You can expect Healy, Cronin, and Porter to come on early in the second half for maximum impact.
While the forward battle may dominate the game, everyone is going to be watching Joey Carberry. This will be his first game back in Dublin against his old team. Will he be targeted by his old team mates? You better believe he will!
Coming back to an old club while playing for their biggest rivals, historically at least, complicates things immensely. The emotions will be pumping through his body as he runs out into a packed stadium. I fully expect Joey to be capable of managing himself, he’s proved that he can perform at the highest level, but if he shows one moment of hesitation today, Leinster will punish it.
The spread today is seven points. I think it will be closer than that. Sometimes these games can be cagey affairs, fought out by the forwards. With Europe just around the corner, neither side wants to give too much away.
Both back lines are, however, loaded with talent. It’s not hard to see why the no-try scorer odds are 40-1. Where will it come from though?
My gut tells me that the first try will be a forward move, probably a maul close in. But the back three on both sides are so exciting looking, it’s possible that this is where the break through will come from.
James Lowe, Kearney, and McFadden make for an exciting back three. But they are up against an equally interesting trio in Conway, Earls, and Sweetnam. If they can get the ball away from the forwards today, we are sure to see some fireworks in both sides going forward.
Verdict: Leinster by four points