Tuesday 28 January 2020

Another chapter in the long and often blood-stained history of the city boys versus country brawn

Leinster legend Brian O'Driscoll Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster legend Brian O'Driscoll Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

John Daly

There will be blood - guaranteed - and it will be all part of the expected entertainment value for the punters who'll pack the Aviva today in the latest Leinster v Munster showdown. "This is older than all of us," bleat the adverts, and as derbies go, it is surely up there with Cork and Kerry in football, Kilkenny v Tipp in the hurling and City against United in the footie.

Regardless of whether you're a fair-weather rugby fan who just likes sheepskin jackets and pints in Kiely's, or a super-nerd who can reel off every jink and sprint of Brian O'Driscoll's 46 tries for Ireland, nobody can deny the wicked excitement on display when these two tribes go to war.

Even though the rivalry has become hugely hyped since the advent of the professional era, the hunger for supremacy played out between the two provinces goes back generations, and goes far deeper than just the numbers on the scoreboard. Today is about more than the collision of cartilage and craniums - it's country versus city, fancy dans against muck savages, pride tangling with ego.

In a barrage of colour and commotion destined to transform the grand dame of Lansdowne Road into a turbulent sea of red and blue, both sides will crave this victory above any other - neither willing to contemplate failure and the media torture of Sunday's sports pages.

Yet, if the game is a treasure beyond price to its followers, rugby has had some notable detractors down the ages. Oscar Wilde believed it to be "a good occasion for keeping 30 bullies far from the centre of the city", while PG Wodehouse saw it as an activity "where each side is allowed to put in a certain amount of assault and battery and do things to its fellow man which, if done elsewhere, would result in 14 days without the option, coupled with some strong remarks from the bench".

A more recent, but no less accurate, comment came from the BBC's Jim Noilly in regards to the Munster pack: "Mothers keep their photo on the mantelpiece to stop the kids going too near the fire."

Strolling around the city this morning, expect to find traces of Munster's Red Army camped everywhere from Swords to Stillorgan, hands firmly clamped around priceless touchline tickets, constantly alert for pickpockets or anyone breathing a Southside accent. Layered beneath the familiar red jerseys are the old school ties of Pres, Crescent and Rockwell - academies specialising in the manufacture of classic marques like Clohessey, Leamy, Stringer and Rog. Like Murphy's stout, however, the Southern horde can often travel badly, with grim faces and troubled gait replacing the normal jaunty air displayed so proudly at Musgrave Park - alickadoos at sea in an alien ocean.

Leinster supporters are no less demonstrative, with college crests from Clongowes, Belvo, Michael's and Terenure rippling with many a manic heartbeat as 2pm draws ever closer. Men with a similar dress sense to Ross O'Carroll-Kelly lie in wait around the Horseshoe Bar, Searson's and O'Brien's to buttonhole unsuspecting strangers with the proud tale of how Drico swiped their girlfriend at the '94 Wesley Inter Cert party. Like their Munster counterparts, Leinster players are defined by their boarding schools - with many a barrister or High Court judge relied upon to bellow "You can't knock the 'Rock!" when enough alcohol has been consumed at the office party.

Long before the ball is kicked this afternoon, salvoes in the usual phoney war of words will have pockmarked the airwaves. Former Leinster coach David Knox, an Aussie who wasn't backward about coming forward, still rankles Southern skin five time zones away.

"Munster get 30 points on the board by grinding away and, when the other team is shot, they try and throw the ball around a bit. Then people say 'what a great team'. It's rubbish." Suffice to say he'll be served more than a short should he ever pitch up at a Cork Con match.

Another outsider with a more balanced view of the age-old rivalry was Felipe Contepomi, the Puma whose golden boot spoiled many a Southern Spring, who said: "The Leinster-Munster rivalry is a rivalry between brothers. It has been great for Irish rugby in creating an identity of a kind you will find nowhere else."

Rugby being the ultimate guy thing, bragging rights are central to the equation. One of the more memorable battles between the tribes was the Lansdowne epic of 2006, when Southern pride won the day 30-6 - which led, in turn, to Munster winning their first Heineken Cup against Biarritz in Cardiff, and those indelible street scenes from Limerick beamed live around the world. Three years later, Leinster had their revenge on the country boys in another semi-final - before an attendance of 82,208, a world record for a club rugby game at the time. Mind you, Munster will always have an unbeatable trump card up their sleeve: the epic 1978 victory over the All Blacks at Thomond Park. Game over, my son.

Yes, there will undoubtedly be blood before darkness falls across this old Viking town today. In a modern equivalent of the Colosseum, it only remains to be seen who will play the Christians and who'll be the lions this time around.

Irish Independent

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