Wednesday 19 September 2018

Tony Ward: Great to see Leinster giving this fixture respect it deserves after last year's disrespect

Jordan Larmour during a Leinster rugby press conference. Photo: Sportsfile
Jordan Larmour during a Leinster rugby press conference. Photo: Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

This time last year I took Leo Cullen and Leinster to task over the shadow XV selected to play in the biggest game of the Thomond Park calendar outside of Champions Cup nights.

The criticism was well-warranted as Leinster chose to disrespect the history and tradition of the greatest club fixture in global rugby.

The Leinster XV (of which there are eight starting again today) gave a good account of themselves (nothing surprising in that whatsoever) but Munster took the points in a 29-17 win.

It was still a half-decent occasion but that was more because of the festive fare than what it might have been had Leinster chosen a different tack in their approach.

I never criticise for the sake of it. What Leinster did was disrespectful to the fans who had paid good money for that precious ticket, only to be sold short by the selection of one of the sides. It was wrong.

Circle

Here we are 12 months on and we have gone almost full circle.

By that I mean had either management chosen to rest guys (and yes, we are aware that some of the international elite are indulging in a little more Christmas pud) who had given their all in the back-to-back fixtures against Exeter Chiefs and Leicester Tigers, the strategy of 12 months ago would have been eminently more acceptable.

So, given the season that's in it let's start with a big thank you to both head coaches for turning out heavily-armed match-day squads.

Of course, they could be stronger - Munster by very little - but given the circumstances surrounding the lead-in, along with what is to come at European and Six Nations levels, this smacks of a fixture with Munster-Leinster ire all over it.

Munster will start as favourites given a line-up close to full strength (Simon Zebo, Chris Cloete and possibly Alex Wootton the most notable absentees).

Leinster could still strengthen significantly, yet I am hugely encouraged by the quality in their team announcement.

I had expected something between Academy and Leinster 'A' to challenge the perfect storm that is coming their way in Thomond Park later today.

These are different times but the same old mindset for men in red when facing the feistiest of provincial challenges.

With the greatest of respect to our friends up north and those west of the Shannon nothing stirs Munster blood more than Leinster blue.

Despite the tired old Dooradoyle myth of two men and a dog back in whatever the year, Munster against Leinster always drew massive crowds whether in Thomond or Musgrave (now Irish Independent) Park and no doubt the Mardyke too when the occasion arose.

I spent the best part of a decade wearing red before returning to blue in my latter years and I can say that nothing outside of running out for Ireland meant more to a Munster man than meeting and beating Leinster, irrespective of venue or competition.

Indeed, there was nothing beyond the annual interprovincial series and all week the build-up down south centred on bringing these 'Fancy Dans' down to size.

Bear in mind that I was a Fancy Dan - the Andrew Conway or Ian Keatley of my time - and initially the culture shock was mind-blowing.

Dreaded

Even as amateurs our Christmases could best be described as 'reserved' given that most years the dreaded 'final trial' was played early in the new year.

My generation of players are so envious of what will transpire in Thomond this afternoon - a 26,000 sell-out with both teams in second place in their respective PRO14 conferences and on fire in Europe.

Add the opportunity for Munster folk to see the likes of Jordan Larmour and James Ryan, or perhaps Rory O'Loughlin, Barry Daly or Dan Leavy.

For James Lowe, as Isa Nacewa or Dougie Howlett will testify, a new experience unlike anything in New Zealand awaits.

Munster against Leinster is special, so Leo and Leinster deserve a slap on the back for returning it to its rightful place. Over to you lads.

Irish Independent

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