The Aviva Stadium plays host to the biggest clash of the season thus far on Friday night as Leinster and Munster clash in the RaboDirect Pro 12, kick off 8.00pm.
Both sides come into this heavyweight clash locked on 22 points and lying in 2nd and 3rd place in the league table behind pace setters Ospreys. Both sides will be keen to put one over each other as they gear up for the opening pool games in the Heineken Cup next weekend.
Joe Schmidt welcomes back a number of front liners into his Leinster squad including the likes of Gordon D’Arcy who is one of five players in total – including the back-row trio of Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings and Sean O’Brien as well as prop Cian Healy who will be making their first start of the season for Leinster.
One player who won’t play a part in the’fever in the Aviva’ is Brian O’Driscoll. The Ireland captain hasn’t fully recovered from the ‘stinger’ injury that he picked up during the World Cup. His place will be taken by Fergus McFadden, who will be keen to have a good performance, considering his lack of game time at the World Cup.
Munster have kept changes to a minimum , with just Lifeimi Mafi, Niall Ronan and Denis Leamy coming into the starting 15. Coach Tony McGahan will be keen to gain some traction from Friday’s game and he knows that a good performance against Leinster will set his side up for their Heineken Cup match the following week.
“I don’t think there are many greater challenges in European rugby than playing the Heineken champions, the number one ranked side in a sell out at the national stadium, a venue they’ve had wonderful success at.”
While there are clashes all over the park, the one advantage that Munster will have is that the majority of their frontline internationals played last week and they should be a little more in tune that the returning Leinster players.
Some like Jonny Sexton slotted back in last week, but the likes of Heaslip and co will have to seamlessly fit back into the rhythm of the Leinster side because Munster will attack them like no tomorrow and not give them an inch.
If there is a key battle that could decide the game is it at fly half with Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton battling it out once again. The mindset of both players will be crucial. O’Gara, despite his poor showing against Wales, had a better World Cup than Sexton.
While O’Gara controlled the number 10 jersey, Sexton looked unsure of himself. Last week Sexton looked more comfortable back in Leinster blue. He will no doubt want to prove a point, mostly to himself, and if can get control early Leinster could begin to turn the screw, and when they do it takes some stopping.
The verdict goes to Leinster. Having all their front liners back is a huge boon for them and with a full house expected this game should not be missed as these two great sides write another chapter in their history. Don’t miss it.
15: Rob Kearney
14: Isa Nacewa
13: Fergus McFadden
12: Gordon D’Arcy
11: Luke Fitzgerald
10: Jonathan Sexton
9: Isaac Boss
1: Cian Healy
2: Richardt Strauss
3: Mike Ross
4: Leo Cullen CAPTAIN
5: Devin Toner
6: Sean O’Brien
7: Shane Jennings
8: Jamie Heaslip
16: Sean Cronin
17: Heinke van der Merwe
18: Jamie Hagan
19: Kevin McLaughlin
20: Rhys Ruddock
21: Eoin Reddan
22: Ian Madigan
23: Eoin O’Malley
MUNSTER: Johne Murphy; Doug Howlett, Will Chambers, Lifeimi Mafi, Keith Earls; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell CAPTAIN; Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Denis Leamy
REPLACEMENTS: Denis Fogarty, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Peter O’Mahony, James Coughlan, Tomas O’Leary, Ian Keatley, Danny Barnes
REFEREE: Pascal Gauzere (FFR), ASSISTANT REFEREES: David Wilkinson, Simon McDowell (both IRFU), 4th OFFICIAL: John Montayne (Leinster Rugby Referees), 5th OFFICIAL: Tom Tuohy (Leinster Rugby Referees), TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)