Munster, also beaten by Saracens in Europe, come to Dublin to try to earn a place in the final in Glasgow next weekend.
The big news is the return of Josh van der Flier to the Leinster team. The back row was injured in the Six Nations and has been sorely missed. Sean O’Brien doesn’t get to play one last game at the RDS before his departure to England next season.
Johnny Sexton is curiously dropped to the bench. It’s a chance to see the two players next in line for the number ten jersey, Joey Carberry and Ross Byrne, going head to head. The Munster and former Leinster player seems to be ahead in Joe Schmidt’s mind, but this could be an opportunity for Byrne to stamp a solid claim.
Rob Kearney is also rested this week, with his brother Dave coming into the wing and Larmour moving out to the wing. Other than that, the Leinster team picks itself. Scott Fardy will be on the bench this week.
|Cian Healy||1||Dave Kilcoyne|
|Sean Cronin||2||Niall Scannell|
|Tadhg Furlong||3||John Ryan|
|Devin Toner||4||Jean Kleyn|
|James Ryan||5||Tadhg Beirne|
|Rhys Ruddock||6||Peter O‘Mahony|
|Josh van der Flier||7||CJ Stander|
|Jack Conan||8||Arno Botha|
|Luke McGrath||9||Conor Murray|
|Ross Byrne||10||Joey Carbery|
|James Lowe||11||Keith Earls|
|Robbie Henshaw||12||Rory Scannell|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Chris Farrell|
|Dave Kearney||14||Andrew Conway|
|Jordan Larmour||15||Mike Haley|
|Bryan Byrne||16||Kevin O‘Byrne|
|Ed Byrne||17||Liam O‘Connor|
|Andrew Porter||18||Stephen Archer|
|Scott Fardy||19||Billy Holland|
|Max Deegan||20||Jack O‘Donoghue|
|Nick McCarthy||21||Alby Mathewson|
|Johnny Sexton||22||JJ Hanrahan|
|Rory O‘Loughlin||23||Dan Goggin|
The Munster team is as strong as you would expect for a knock out game. The spoils have been shared this year with Leinster winning the first battle 30-22 in the Aviva Stadium. The return match, notable for the high tempers and poor Leinster discipline, went to Munster 26-17.
During the Christmas game at Thomond both props, Healy and Furlong, were given yellow cards and James Lowe received a straight red. Tempers were hot all the way through the game. You get the feeling that Munster were simply not going to back down and lose. Leinster tried to match them but went a step beyond what is allowed.
No doubt that Munster will bring some of that passion to play tomorrow, albeit in Leinster’s home patch. The tickets will be closely divided between the supporters, however, with only the eleven or so thousand Leinster season ticket holders guaranteed a spot. The sell out crowd will ensure a fiery atmosphere even if the players are on their best behaviours.
Leinster should win. I base that on the strength of the team and the all important home advantage. The home fans will have numerical superiority but no doubt will be challenged by the volume of the travelling fans. But nothing beats waking up in your own bed on the day of a match and going through the match day routine in comfortable surroundings.
The Leinster players are also going to be rebounding from a tough loss last weekend. They have a week less to prepare and rest (Munster had no game last week) but at this time of the year that should not be an issue. They have had an armchair ride in the closing games of the Pro 14 and will be raring to go.
I feel they will want this more. They can’t be number one in Europe this year, but they can sure be the number one team in Ireland and the domestic league.
The bookies have the as favourites with a seven point spread. I have a nagging suspicion that it will be closer than that, but I think it’s worth a bet. Leinster by 8 to 10 points.