This Saturday the most storied rivals in Irish rugby lock horns once again. For Munster and Leinster their meeting in Thomand Park is a must win game for both teams. Leinster have the chance to beat Munster for the sixth consecutive time while Munster look to extend their lead at the top of the Magners League table and get one back on Leinster.
Looking back on their rivalry it is fascinating to see where both teams came from and where they are now. When professional rugby was in its infancy in Ireland Munster led the way. They blazed the trail in Europe and showed what could be achieved. They were the golden boys while Leinster where looked upon as the playboys, all flair and no stomach for a fight, of Irish rugby.
For years Leinster fans looked enviously down to Munster as they watched them lift the Heineken Cup while they were left to rue what might have been. Munster grew while Leinster went sideways. But one game would shift the balance of power and the mindset of both teams.
The 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park will be forever be remembered as the day Leinster stepped out of Munster’s shadow. That day they showed the rugby world just what they were made of.
As Bernard Jackman said in his book Blue Blooded “One team that day was ready to win and one was ready to lose. We were ready to win” That victory propelled Leinster to reach the “Promised Land” while it rocked Munster to its very core. I still believe they have not fully recovered mentally from that defeat. It left scars that haven’t fully healed.
Leinster pierced the Munster bubble that day. The balance of power was now with Leinster. They knew that they could beat Munster when it matter. So did Munster. One of the defining characteristics of Munster is the depth of their self belief. Munster has yet to fully regain their self belief. From that day on the mental edge went to Leinster and they have yet to give it back.
A victory for Munster this weekend would go some way to restoring confidence in their camp. Although top of the Magners League they are not in the Heineken Cup quarter final which is their be all and end all. Beating Leinster might just be the kick start they need to get back on track. A defeat for them could knock them back even further.
For Leinster a win in Thomand Park would set them up nicely for their clash with Leicester in the Aviva on Saturday week. They like Munster will be strengthen by the return of their Irish internationals to the fold.
A quick scan of the recent meetings between the two teams would give you an uneven perspective of how the teams are matched. Yes Leinster have won five on the spin but aside from the 30-0 drubbing at the RDS all the games have been fairly close. Expect nothing less this Saturday.
Mentally it is a huge game for both teams. Leinster has the edge on Munster. Overall they have the better depth of squad and the return of their front liners will make a big difference. Munster come into the game in good form. Their victory last weekend over the Cardiff Blues was impressive and they will need no motivation for this game.
As always this match will be highly intense. Ronan O Gara and Jonny Sexton continue their battle at fly half and whoever can control the match better will be on the winning side. Such games are never easy to predict. I fancy Leinster to just have enough to repel Munster. It should be a cracker.