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Munster, Leinster, the Aviva. It’s an absolute beaut of a fixture
The blood runs through your brain from the first time you watch rugby in a Munster household to understand that this is the pinnacle of provincial rugby, television and well, emotional experience whilst on the couch. Leinster day is judgement day. Call it what you want, South V West, Red V Blue, Massey Ferguson V Mercedes Benz; the same principal applies.
Indeed, today there’s now just a motorway to separate the two rugby hub counties, but in history there’s been a lot more twists and turns in the fixture. Munster dominance, Leinster upsets, Leinster dominance to an even playing field. In the pro era alone you think of characters such as Paul O’Connell, Anthony Foley, Ronan O’Gara, Felipe Contepomi, Gervan Dempsey and Leo Cullen. It is no coincidence that all of such men have went into management. They weren’t just great players but brought a dawning presense and passion to the game too.
The past really makes it what it is today.
Fall from Grace
Unfortunately it could be said that more or less since the journey from Limerick to the Aviva has decreased, so have the provinces in stature. Maybe it’s true that both set-ups have lost character, or maybe just have passion in the wrong places. Anthony Foley for instance reeks of embarrassment and sorrow on behalf of the province whenever Munster take a hiding. All the while some guys on the pitch ‘don’t play like the Munster men of old’.
I personally don’t buy into that. Last year Ireland won the Six Nations. Leinster have 31 internationals, Munster have 20. The talent is there, passion is a smoke & mirrors aspect really, so it leaves fingers pointing at the coaches. Not to slate Cullen as he hasn’t even been in the job a season, but Foley is untalented at what he does, like Matt O’Connor for a finish, in Leinster’s case. A team of 20 internationally capped players being knocked out of Europe at the first hurdle and spending a season flirting with mid table places in the Pro 12 doesn’t exactly reflect well. Yet our struggles are down to the fight of the individuals on pitch level?
Does anyone really think that Donnacha Ryan isn’t going to knock blocks out of some misfortunate soul come Saturday? The values are still there and this match at least, is sure to be full of fire. Quality-wise though, it’s anyone’s guess.
Both sides want to be higher achievers as discussed and such is reflected for Munster as they have lost twice in their last five reasonably straight forward fixtures. The defeats came away to Cardiff and Glasgow while home games were won against Dragons and Zebre. The men in red however, only managed a three point victory over Treviso in Italy. This away form will have to improve for the trip to Lansdowne for sure.
The blues meanwhile have lost their last two games, both were away, and against Connacht & Glasgow. In contrast though, they won three in a row before that including a three point margin win versus the Ospreys in their only home game of late.
As a result both sides should feel in similar vein approaching the derby with points to prove.
Munster: CJ Stander, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo
CJ is now known all too well by the Leinster boyos following operation ‘destroy the Six Nations’ and by the looks of his Zebre cameo, his confidence is at new heights. As the stand in captain, the South African will once again look to inspire by both means of example and passion when it matters most.
Rory Scannell is incredibly underrated, exciting and talented. His significance to this fixture is not to be undermined. Leinster’s defence has been impressive this year in the league so width is going to have to be applied when possible. Ideally, Scannell is just the man for opening up gaps for his teammates to run through as highlighted here
Another man who is feeling on top of the world is the classy Simon Zebo. The fact that he is now the top try scorer in the provinces history says more than enough of his danger and how unappreciated he is in some corners. Against Leinster it will be fascinating to see him threaten their defence and especially Ireland rival Rob Kearney. Mouth watering.
Munster Haka prediction: Leinster by 7
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Time: Saturday, 2nd April, 17:30
Broadcasters: Sky and TG4
By Ronan Calvert of Munster Haka