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Alan Quinlan: Jealous Reds can use the lessons of the past to stun Leinster

Peter O’Mahony’s tetchy exchange with Reggie Corrigan after Munster’s last Leinster clash may prey on his mind. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony’s tetchy exchange with Reggie Corrigan after Munster’s last Leinster clash may prey on his mind. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

There was fire in their eyes, an intensity, a collective will, and a ferocity in the tackle that we just couldn't match. We were emotionally drained and caught slightly below-par, and that makes all the difference at this level.

It was teeming with rain at the RDS on April 12, 2008 and Michael Cheika's Leinster managed the game brilliantly from pillar to post in a 21-12 victory to knock us out of contention for Celtic League honours. Felipe Contepomi kicking six penalties and Johnny Sexton a late drop goal to end our double dreams.

Seven days previously we had felt almost invincible after navigating a 16-3 Heineken Cup quarter-final success at Gloucester; no mean feat in those days against a side who only a month later would finish top of the English Premiership table for a second successive season.

There were no wild celebrations, but there were joyous scenes after the game at Kingsholm. We knew we had taken another huge step towards a second Heineken Cup success in three seasons.

There was no drink taken at the post-match meal, no danger of us really taking our eyes off the ball, but getting right mentally for a trip to the RDS against a ravenous Leinster the following weekend was always going to be difficult.

Leinster, on the other hand, didn't make it out of their Heineken Cup pool, so had two weeks to prepare for our visit, an opportunity to take us down in size and record a huge confidence-boosting win against one of the top teams in Europe.

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It was an opportunity to prove that they belonged in the continent's elite division, that they weren't as far off making that breakthrough and claiming a first European crown as their third-place finish in their pool suggested.

Of course, the 2009 semi-final between Leinster and Munster will long be hailed as a seminal moment in the Blues' rise to the top in Europe for the first time, but a lot of their burgeoning belief came from victories like the one on that April evening 12 months previously.

They were undoubtedly looking at us with envy at the time, and they channelled that into their performance.

They got in our faces, set the terms of engagement and dominated us physically. Fast-forward 10 years and the roles have been reversed - that's exactly what Munster have to do at the RDS today.

Leinster will be focusing on delivering a professional performance, the toll of last week almost guarantees they will not be able to rely on getting over the line with efforts predominantly fuelled by passion.

Adrenalin

It's not just the 80 minutes of pressure-cooker cup final rugby that knocks you for six, it's the build-up, the adrenalin, the travel, and the euphoria afterwards.

Their emotional stocks will still be depleted even though Leo Cullen has attempted to freshen things up with his selection.

Munster are not expected to win, which takes some of the pressure off, but at the same time they have much more to lose.

It's now seven years since they lifted their last trophy - a 19-9 Celtic League final win against today's opponents at Thomond Park, when they were once again drained by a European final success - and that's a long time between drinks for a club like Munster.

A win for Johann van Graan's men today would also pour cold water on the gathering notion that Leinster are now streets ahead, which I certainly don't believe to be the case.

But lose and another relatively positive campaign ends without anything shiny to show for it.

Win and this could be exactly the tonic this Munster squad need to take that next step forward, to get into another major final and prove their quality when it really matters.

This game has the potential to be career-defining for these Munster players.

In a golden year for Irish rugby, this is the type of fixture that will be remembered for years to come.

On paper it appears to be a good time to be playing Leinster, but with the depth of talent at Cullen's disposal at the moment you are never going to have it easy against them, especially in their back yard.

Munster just don't have the talent and depth to match their great rivals right now, especially without the likes of Chris Farrell, Jaco Taute, Tommy O'Donnell, Chris Cloete, Tyler Bleyendaal and Stephen Archer.

I'm expecting a bit of needle in this contest, Munster will want it to be an edgy affair and hope that Leinster aren't as up for the fight.

Racing 92 managed to stop Leinster from getting into the groove in Bilbao, and Munster will be looking to do exactly the same thing today, albeit in conditions that are better suited to the home side's natural game-plan.

The French outfit ultimately came up short but they were within one score of beating the best team in Europe by slowing down the ball, competing aggressively at the breakdown, and staying connected in defence - not buying Leinster's dummy runners. The blueprint is there.

Interview

I suspect Peter O'Mahony's tetchy post-match interview with Reggie Corrigan after the Aviva loss earlier this season is still preying on the Munster skipper's mind - having the motivation of your players questioned, especially by a former Leinster prop, is not something that dissolves easily.

There are many intriguing sub-plots running through this game, not least that those on the fringes of Joe Schmidth's thoughts for next month's tour to Australia can secure a spot on the plane with an impressive performance this afternoon.

Leinster won't have been able to achieve an awful lot on the training field this week, they'll be relying on all the work that they've done in the months leading up to this point to get them through another huge challenge, that's why it's so important they are on point mentally.

It's also why no team has ever won the Champions Cup/PRO14 double.

Leinster have come close a couple of times, and managed to combine a PRO12 title with the Challenge Cup in 2013, but it shows how difficult a clean sweep really is to achieve.

It has already been a phenomenal season for Leinster's Ireland players, but you can be certain that achieving an unprecedented double is now a primary motivator, and winning a fifth PRO14 title would put them out in front on their own as the most successful side in the history of this competition, across its many different formats.

Munster desperately need a win for very different reasons.

Let the battle commence.

Irish Independent

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