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The massive weekend of sport kicks off at 6pm on Saturday, in the Aviva stadium where Leinster welcome Munster to their home away from home for the last of the first leg of the interprovincial series of the season. Ulster and Connacht play on Friday which is an important game for both but the big game takes place in Dublin.
The first question was what teams would be picked? Would the front liners get brought back into the team in the week before the Heineken cup opening game? Well that hinged on the early season form. Leinster are 4 from 5 so far with 1 loss by 2 points to Scarlets in Wales. Munster are 3 from 5 that being 2 big losses against Cardiff (by 24 points) and Glasgow (by 15). This was the reasoning behind who would play their fit starters. Munster need the win, they have been fairly awful away from home and they also know that the ulster match last weekend did not do them any favours. Putting 60+ points on the visiting northerners may look impressive. But Ulster sent down a lot of inexperience and any experience they sent didn’t finish the game. Munster learnt nothing, they haven’t learnt anything yet this season. When the game shave gone against them they haven’t been able to manage their way into the game, they haven’t been near winning ugly when it goes against them.
Leinster on the other hand have been improving every game. There was a lucky win in the opener against Cardiff. They won ugly with a final drive up the pitch, a purposeful play to get the score and it worked. It showed the ability to stay in the game and to win the game. Leinster had that last year and it has continued from there. The Scarlets loss wasn’t a bad thing so early in the season and it brought the first liners back into the squad earlier than planned. Which improved all around them. Yes, Leinster have the conveyor belt of top level cover but you need the experience to guide them through. Ulster tried to do that in Thomond Park and it melted them, Leinster have been doing that through pre-season and into the early stages, great to see. Leinster have a losing bonus point in their Scarlets loss which is something Munster have not been near.
So what decisions were made about the squads? The teams where announced this afternoon:
|Jack McGrath||Dave Kilcoyne|
|James Tracy||Niall Scannell|
|Michael Bent||Stephen Archer|
|Devin Toner||Jean Kleyn|
|James Ryan||Tadhg Beirne|
|Rhys Ruddock ©||Peter O’Mahony ©|
|Dan Leavy||Tommy O’Donnell|
|Sean O’Brien||CJ Stander|
|Rob Kearney||Andrew Conway|
|Fergus McFadden||Darren Sweetnam|
|Rory O’Loughlin||Sammy Arnold|
|Robbie Henshaw||Dan Goggin|
|James Lowe||Keith Earls|
|Ross Byrne||Joey Carbery|
|Jamison Gibson-Park||Alby Mathewson|
The team selection tells the story. One team is as happy as they can be heading into the Heineken cup. One team really has no idea where they are. One team feels that resting playmakers and allowing game time into the squad is the way to go, one team needs a result. Make no mistake, Munster NEED this result. They haven’t been able to navigate the early season as they should. Quite similar to previous years, but in saying that, they made 2 semi-finals last season. They are not far away from dining at the top table, but a lot of changes need to happen. They need to navigate deep waters as they would be expected to do. On Saturday they will be in deep water. They will be under a constant wave of pressure from a confident team. There will be moments when they look at their playmaker like a child waiting for their ice cream. Will he be able to deliver? So far he has, when the going has been good. But in the 2 losses the team showed that the pack will struggle under pressure.
For Leinster, Tracy and Bent have a big job. They can really lessen the gap between them and the perceived starting front rowers with a big shift on Saturday. When Kilcoyne is on form he is fun to watch and Scannell is always impressive, but if the Leinster lads can at least find parity there, they will win the day.
For history’s sake, let’s look at the head to head.
The last time Munster visited the Aviva Conway was literally their only threat. It is becoming a bogey ground for them and that needs to change this weekend if they want to be taken seriously. Not to be overly dramatic, and this is surely to wind up the people of Munster, but no one fears them. Not one top team fears seeing Munster in the business end of the season. That is why they NEED this win. Also, please note the Munster support who take that one paragraph out of context.
So what will happen on Saturday? Well firstly it will (as always) be great to have the Munster support down in the Aviva. Always great craic and always good for banter. I’ll be in BLK510 row U seat 15 if you fancy coming over for a chat. Munster will start strong, they have to. They will try and get on the front foot as early as possible. They cannot allow themselves to be pushed back early. Similar to Connacht against Leinster, they will want to test the Leinster defence early. They will find it unbreakable. While finding it unbreakable, much like Khabib will find out, Leinster will march forward and strangle them (Khabib will be KO’d in R2). Munster will find themselves behind and will not be able to navigate their way out of it.
Leinster to win it by at least a score.
Afterwards we all have a pint.