So here we go, after picking up the big trophy last weekend against a massively impressive Racing team, Leinster welcome the old enemy back to their home for the semi-final of the Guinness pro14 competition.
The Munster social media contingent is talking about a Leinster hangover, a Munster fighting spirit and a pure madness of thought that will lead them to the final. The Leinster support is far more realistic than the last time the double was on the menu. Last time was after the massive comeback against Northampton and then a trip to a raucous (and always fantastic WHEN FULL) Thomond Park. On that day, Munster had class, experience and where far closer to their last medal. This time, they do not, have not and are even further away from medals.
The big takeaway is that the Northampton match took its toll emotionally as well as physically. Coming back like Leinster did on that day is not something that can be done regularly and it takes a massive amount of time to rebound from. Leinster just couldn’t do it that year. This year, the toll is only physical, the reaction to winning the big cup has been more measured and most importantly, there haven’t been sightings of Leinster players celebrating since they got back from Bilbao.
The teams have been announced this afternoon and there have been changed made on both sides. Leinster have brought in Ross Byrne at 10 (J10’s groin just couldn’t handle his power), McGrath in for Healy (bench), Ruddock and Conan in for Leavy and Fardy (bench). Isa moves to 12 (Henshaw injured), Carberry in at 15 and Larmour (as in armour) stays on the wing.
So does that sound like an easier game for Munster? Do the changes make Leinster weaker? The answer to both is no, and that is the big achievement of the Cullen Lancaster coaching ticket. They gap between nailed on starters and just starters is so minimal that there is no second string anymore.
Munster have the usual good players mixed with a sprinkling of world class but their issue is (and will be if changes aren’t made) in the pack. The front row is solid but not spectacular, you can read them easily. They do the simple things well, but in comparison to what the blue front row can do they are basic. The second row is good, but again they are in against the form second row in Europe in Toner and Ryan. The back row will be where they fancy it, with Leavy out the POM, JOD and Stander trio may fancy a crack at Ruddock, Murphy and Conan. This will be a serious scrap and great for us to watch, regardless of jersey. Munster has Earls (lijind) Conway (lijind) and Zebo at the back who always pose a threat and can produce magic anytime they have any space. But they are opposite Lowe, Larmour (as in armour) and Carberry. Again another fascinating matchup there.
Looking at the head to head, Leinster have won 4 of the last 5, they come in confident after beating the best in Europe and in the final a Racing team that walk past Munster . Munster have been ok in the last few games since the Racing defeat, a draw against a dour Ulster side may have dented their confidence. Leinster is a different calibre.
So what will happen? Will Munster support travel when they don’t even go to Thomond anymore? Well I think the first 15 will be a red wave, they will be going for it. The Leinster defence will be holding them out with relative ease and slowly will begin the strangulation game. Even if Munster get 7 points up early, they won’t be anywhere near safe for the 80. My prediction is Leinster by 7 and with relative ease towards the end. Munster is on the way but they have some changes to make to be at the top table.
It will be some game!