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World Cup spots up for grabs in crunch derby


Keith Earls and Conor Murray share a joke at the end of training

Keith Earls and Conor Murray share a joke at the end of training


It proved to be yet another disappointing European Cup final for Clermont against Toulon

It proved to be yet another disappointing European Cup final for Clermont against Toulon



Keith Earls and Conor Murray share a joke at the end of training

It's going to be a cracking game at Kingspan Stadium tomorrow - I know Leinster are one of the big three in Ireland but Munster versus Ulster has the feel of an Irish trial in a World Cup year.

When you think of the individuals who will be on display and playing against each other you have the likes of Tommy O'Donnell and Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson and Ian Keatley, Donnacha Ryan, Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo - they all want to prove their point to the national management.

There is a lot going on and there is much more than just points on offer - there's pride, international selection and of course the potential home semi-final.

If Ulster can get that all-important win and deprive Munster of any bonus points then they have an increased chance of getting a home semi, despite having to go to Glasgow in the last round.

This game has the looks of a possible Grand Final so both sides will have that in the back of their minds if they needed any more incentive to grab the upper hand.

Ulster are on a bit of a roll and they've guys returning from injury like Chris Henry - even considering the couple of injuries they have in the centre, the abundance of talent they have in their squad allows them to replace quality with more quality.

There is such depth in their team and they are a team who look very hungry for silverware this season.

They are on fire and it will be very difficult for Munster to go up there and win, but certainly there is more light at the end of the Munster tunnel because they have Dragons at home in the final round so you would feel there are more points available there for them.

As usual the game will surely be won and lost up front and it's going to be a massive battle, as provincial derbies usually are.

You have two experienced packs, a lot of them are internationals as well, with CJ Stander on his way towards becoming an Irish international at the end of the year.

As a result he would be another one of those on the pitch who has their point to prove to Joe Schmidt et al.


Munster's challenge is similar to what Clermont faced in the Champions Cup final last weekend. Clermont lost out because they weren't clinical enough when they had the opportunities.

Munster cannot afford to do that if they're looking to pull of what would be a major win against a top side in the Pro12.

It was a pity that Clermont didn't follow through last weekend and win their first European Cup - Toulon were definitely deserving winners but once again when presented with the opportunities Clermont fell short with the finishing line in sight.

I really wanted to see Clermont do it at last because they have been consistently playing some great rugby in the competition.

To win it three times in a row is so difficult to do because when you get to that level everyone else is raising their game and trying to knock you off your perch, but Toulon looked comfortable last weekend.

In terms of defence, any time Clermont ran at them, it was like they were just running into a brick wall. Their big men stopped them dead and they were so quick to get in for the poach and disrupt their ball.

Going forward people are saying that a team like Toulon could ruin the game of rugby because teams would be manufactured and the team with the most money will win all the trophies.

But there's a lot of other teams out there with big bank balances and they aren't getting half the success Toulon are.

Clermont are one of those with the money and the good squad but it's another thing to actually go out and win it.

They've have certainly captured a great team spirit and have some really classy players, but you need that bit extra on the biggest stage of all.

In the Champions Cup they weren't clinical whereas Toulon took their chances, like all good teams do. Munster will need to take every opportunity that comes their way against Ulster are else they won't have enough to see them over the line.

Irish Independent