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Healy: 'It doesn't get bigger than this'

SAME faces but a fresh beginning. When the latest chapter in Cian Healy's Leinster career launches tonight it will be against some familiar foes. Very familiar at that.

Nothing boils the blood more for either camp than interprovincial derbies and when the Leinster and Munster teams cross the whitewash it will be more than local pride at stake.

The competitiveness of the league table will put pay to most other subplots. Four valuable points represents the goal.

Passion, pride, power, pace. Nights like tonight are the reason why professional sportsmen and women sacrifice hour after hour punishing their bodies in the quest for excellence.

Though the Aviva Stadium has seen four unanswered victories last season for Leinster, since their debut in the refurbished arena in the corresponding fixture last year, those wearing blue shirts know that it will take a lot more than history to ensure the province's good recent run of form continues.

"As a stadium it (the Aviva) is a fantastic place to play and I think that those of us who haven't played for a few weeks are dying to get there," the 24-year-old said ahead of tonight's showdown (KO: 8pm).

"It seems like it has been ages since a lot of us pulled on the Leinster jersey and there's huge excitement and a real buzz around the place as we've settled back in after the World Cup.

"I love playing in the stadium. The noise seems to bounce off the pitch and it's a great place to play. It should be a great occasion."

Healy admits that tonight's fixture was the source of some banter in the Irish camp, typifying more than anything else the intense good-natured bonds of friendship that co-exist between both camps.

With Healy likely to come up against childhood friends like Ian Keatley -- the two, incidentally, were members of the Belvedere College SJ Senior Cup team which lifted the Schools title at the old Lansdowne Road in 2005 -- as well as a number of other foot soldiers across a series of representative sides over the years, it all adds to the motivation to succeed. "We get a bit of a laugh about the whole 'Leinster v Munster' rivalry because we all get on great off the pitch," he says. "If you take someone like Earlsy (Keith Earls), the likes of Seánie (O'Brien) and I would have played on teams with him for years.

"Many other players have won Triple Crowns and the Grand Slam (2009) together so there's a huge level of respect, and rivalry, don't get me wrong!

"We all share the same desire to win whenever we're fortunate to pull on a green shirt. The colours on our jerseys are different on weeks like this, but the will to win doesn't change."

Impressed by the solid start that the squad have made to the PRO12, Healy stresses that the real challenge lies in raising standards once more. But he knows that those who have kept the home fires burning have increased the pressure for the coaching staff on selection days.

"When we were down in New Zealand we were tuning into how the team were doing and it just shows that there's great competition across the board. Heinke (van der Merwe) and Jack (McGrath) have done really well in the games to date and I know that I'll have my work cut out to get back into the team.

"All three of us have huge ambitions to start matches and that kind of competition is a good thing."

Healy also refutes any notion of complacency by the home side, citing the fact that Munster have regained the interprovincial initiative having won the last two league encounters.

"Personally I prefer to look ahead rather than dwell on past achievements", he says. "Even though we have a good record in the Aviva we won't be lulled into a false sense of security.

"It's a bit like the start of a new term and it's great to be back after having a really memorable experience at the World Cup.

"Whenever the Munster game comes around there's a real air of excitement and we're now entering into a phase of big, big games. Knowing that every week will be high intensity is exciting for all of the players. But it doesn't really get any bigger than this."

And the Clontarf prop wouldn't have it any other way.