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Renewal of rivalries can heal World Cup wounds

After a relatively successful World Cup tournament, the domestic scene comes back in to sharp focus this evening as arch rivals Leinster and Munster do battle once again.

Ireland's players would be delighted that the page has finally been turned on the season. Upon returning to home shores they would have been anxious for the World Cup to come to a quick conclusion so the focus could be shifted back as quickly as possible to reforging relationships with team-mates in their provinces.

Whilst it looked as if the squad in general got on very well on tour, the quality of some of those relationships, but moreover the personal disappointments of non-selection, always add a lot of spice to the Leinster v Munster clash.



selections

However, the timing of the fixture so aptly places these ingredients at the forefront of affairs this evening.

Many of the World Cup squad will want to put one over on their opposite numbers and demonstrate to Declan Kidney that they should have been taken more seriously.

Kidney would love nothing more than to see these guys going toe-to-toe.

To be fair to him, by and large he got his selections right during the World Cup but I'm sure that one or two of the players will have something to say about that.

It has to be stated that there are few things worse in a career of a player than being at a World Cup with little or no involvement.

These matches are always so tough to call, so I am not going to break precedent and predict the outcome of this one.



blooding

Munster arguably come in slightly better prepared if it could be described that way, even allowing for the fact that many of the internationals have just returned to their squads.

Munster coach Tony McGahan did have the luxury of blooding some more of his first choice players last week as compared to Joe Schmidt -- however the Leinster coach was never going to return 14 of his internationals straight into the staring line-up.

But Schmidt had one or two very tough calls to make ahead of tonight's clash, especially at full-back.

Rob Kearney gets the full-back slot from Isa Nacewa, with Fergus McFadden at centre alongside Gordon D'Arcy.

D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll's days are by no means over as a partnership but it is no harm to look at some longer-term options considering that age and injuries between the two will inevitably become more of a factor as time goes on.

Jonny Sexton returned in excellent form against Edinburgh last weekend, accumulating 23 points.

The contest with Ronan O'Gara tonight will be worth the ticket price alone.

The Aviva once again should be close to a sellout.

For a Friday night it again only serves to highlight the stature of this fixture.

Looking forward to the rest of the year for both sides, the coaches will be acutely aware that their teams would have to continually regenerate and reinvent themselves despite the wealth of experience both have at their disposal.

After the disappointments of the World Cup in 2007, many said that this was the end of an era for certain players.



SUCCESSES

Those players all returned to their provincial set-ups and subsequently Heineken Cup successes followed in 2008 and 2009 for both Munster and Leinster respectively.

I remember that the 'writing was on the wall' for Munster in particular after coming off a bad Heineken series in '07.

With Kidney at the helm, he managed to get his players back in gear and playing for each other and success followed later that season.

History shows us that despite bitter disappointments and regrets, players of this generation will always be remembered from what they achieved in a European context.

We all know they had the massive opportunity and quality to take on the world this year but it did not come to pass.

Those failures at international level in the past only served to whet the appetite for future European success which should never be taken lightly.

After this year's World Cup, many of the same players are back in familiar territory, albeit against their best wishes.

I suspect that once again our two best teams will have a big say towards the destination of this year's Heineken Cup.

Going on past events should we expect anything less?


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