Leinster's 10 changes hand pre-derby boost to rassie's reds
Munster have been handed a pre-derby psychological boost for their clash against Leinster at Thomond Park after the IRFU's player management rule has led to Leo Cullen making ten changes to the side that hammered Northampton in Europe last week.
But Munster coach Rassie Erasmus, who has retained most of his leading international stars, says the integrity of the fixture has not been damaged. "People wouldn't come if it wasn't something great," he said. "I take it it's going to be a massive occasion.
However, Munster will not be able to front-load their side for their New Year's Eve trip to Connacht as each province has been allowed to field their strongest sides for home fixtures. So, on that day, Leinster will restore their leading lights to the side at the RDS against an Ulster side who will themselves be under orders to field a weakened side.
It is the one drawback to the festive period and one which angers many rugby supporters, many of whom ensured sell-outs for virtually all four fixtures well in advance, despite knowing the advance line-ups. "They also have to manage their players in the next two games but they have unbelievable player depth," argued Erasmus. "Their coaching staff's history talks for itself, they gave us a good hiding at the Aviva and one of the three losses we had this year was against them. We're expecting a very tough game against a well-coached team who are on a high."
Munster make just three changes. James Cronin, Jean Kleyn and Ronan O'Mahony are all included with Francis Saili in line to make his first appearance of the season if sprung from the bench.
The Kiwi centre is fit to play after undergoing shoulder surgery at the end of last season. Two changes in the pack see James Cronin join last week's try scorer Niall Scannell and John Ryan in the front-row, while Kleyn will partner Donnacha Ryan in the second-row.
Tadhg Furlong is the only forward retained in the Leinster pack yet, such is the strength in depth within the province, who recently defeated Dragons minus 19 internationals, he will still form an all-Irish front-row.
Cullen does, at least, retain four of the back-line who started against Northampton, with captain Isa Nacewa switching wings. As a result UCD's Barry Daly comes into the side on the left wing.
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"It's the first time I've been away at Munster so it's a new experience for me," says Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. "You can sense it already in the week."
Munster (v Leinster) - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, R O'Mahony; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, D Ryan; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander. Reps: R Marshall, D Kilcoyne, S Archer, B Holland, J O'Donoghue, D Williams, F Saili, A Conway.
LEINSTER - Z Kirchner; I Nacewa (capt), R O'Loughlin, R Henshaw, B Daly; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; C Healy, James Tracy, T Furlong; R Molony, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, D Leavy, J Conan. Reps: R Strauss, P Dooley, M Bent, I Nagle, D Ryan, C Rock, N Reid, T Daly.