Wednesday 13 December 2017

Big match: head-to-heads

Super Healy cements grip on Ireland jersey

AS well as the carrot of a place in the Magners League decider and the lift that comes with putting one over your greatest rivals, the final trial aspect to Saturday night's Leinster-Munster showdown was a considerable incentive for both sides.

Despite Leinster's fourth win in a row over their big rivals -- comprising eight tries scored to none conceded -- the Munster contingent have a big role to play on Ireland's summer tour.

Cian Healy v Marcus Horan

A comprehensive triumph for the Leinster loose-head, who has bounced back superbly from his Toulose travails. Healy (pictured) gave John Hayes a rough time of it in the scrum and was typically ebullient in the loose, denied a try by an illegal tackle. Horan had a difficult evening, dominated first by Stan Wright and then CJ van der Linde and causing a crucial penalty reversal. Healy is unquestionably Ireland's first-choice No 1, with Ulster's Tom Court his likely back-up.

John Fogarty v

Damien Varley

Injury permitting, Jerry Flannery, Rory Best and Sean Cronin will be the three hookers on the plane but Fogarty is ready to step up if required; he put in another strong performance here in a season full of them. Varley has made huge progress with Munster and did well in the close exchanges and on the ball, although a few lineout throws got away from him. Ireland have decent strength in depth in a key position.

John Hayes v Mike Ross

Except there was no Mike Ross. Wright and Van der Linde both had big impacts for Leinster but that is of no use to Ross or Ireland. The Corkman is chronically short on game-time while Hayes looks like he needs the summer off. Tight-head is still the big conundrum.

Kevin McLaughlin v

Alan Quinlan

Quinlan has been out of the Ireland picture for a while but has been playing well all season and did his utmost to drag Munster back into it. Against him, McLaughlin, although not as prominent as he was against Edinburgh the previous week, put in another solid shift and looks the front-runner to step in for the injured Stephen Ferris.

Jamie Heaslip v

James Coughlan

Coughlan should have started and did well when eventually introduced. The No 8 is a long shot to make the tour, with the likes of Ulster's Chris Henry in his way, but can be proud of his contribution this season. Heaslip will be pivotal to Ireland's chances of a worthwhile expedition and was in a different class on Saturday night.

Shane Jennings v

David Wallace

Jennings led Leinster by example and was part of a convincing back-row display. He has a good shot at starting one of the Tests next month and, while there are calls for Wallace to receive a well-earned summer break, his strength and experience will be needed Down Under. Proved his worth off the bench with a series of strong carries.

Eoin Reddan v

Tomas O'Leary

Reddan is enjoying himself behind Heaslip and Co and turned in another assured showing. He had the edge on O'Leary here but the Munster No 9 remains a key man for Ireland, while Peter Stringer raised the tempo when brought on for the final 15 minutes.

Jonathan Sexton v

Ronan O'Gara

Sexton produced an excellent showing, considering he had not played since fracturing his jaw in early April. The Leinster No 10 is in a good position to make a strong contribution this summer and, although O'Gara missed a couple of kicks and was steamrolled by Heaslip, the Heineken Cup player of the last 15 years was on the money with his passing and took his drop goal superbly.

Brian O'Driscoll v

Keith Earls

An excellent and even contest. O'Driscoll's physicality in the tackle zone was startling while Earls (pictured) looked dangerous whenever he got a bit of space to move in. The prospect of these two combining in Ireland's midfield is an exciting one, but Gordon D'Arcy will have something to say about that.

hugh farrelly

Irish Independent

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