Stakes high as Munster look to launch recovery
If you had wedged yourself in front of the telly on Friday night for Wales versus France in the Six Nations then you could pretty much have stayed there all day yesterday, with more to come this afternoon, breaking only for essentials.
Across Test and club rugby in two hemispheres, and a range of platforms, you could be dialling into more than 30 matches. This afternoon's Pro12 tie in Treviso will be at the butt end of those on the attendance scale, but if you're from Munster then it might well have the feel of a relegation battle about it.
"Hopefully our fightback starts this weekend," is how tighthead John Ryan puts it.
Having started the weekend two places off the top six, the prospect of qualifying for Europe is now a fraught subject. "Every game is massive from here on in and picking up points is vital," adds Ryan. "We've put this pressure on ourselves and anything we can pick up is huge. We need to start winning games."
Thanks to ending up in the same pool in Europe, this will be the fourth meeting between the teams this season, with Munster having won the three to this point.
Anthony Foley makes six changes to the side that lost narrowly to Glasgow last weekend, and they are none the worse for it. Even though Treviso are on what for them is a roll - back-to-back wins over Dragons and Cardiff - if Munster don't sort a win here they won't recover.
By comparison, Leinster's situation is altogether rosier. The prospect of Zebre is an appealing one - even if the weather forecast is poor - given they have never lost to these opponents in seven games.
Leo Cullen's side lost Jack Conan to an ankle injury yesterday, with Jordi Murphy promoted from the bench and Peadar Timmins called into the match-day squad. Leinster have seven players with fewer than 15 appearances each to their name, which clearly isn't something you'd want to be doing against a stronger outfit. The bench has some experienced reinforcements on it if needed.
The front five is well short of caps, but at least Mick Kearney in the second-row - making his second start after recovering from a long-term foot issue - has a successful chapter with Connacht already in his career.
"There's a bit of daylight between the top four and the next bunch, but you just know if you lose a game, everyone pushes up," Cullen says. "That's the importance of just trying to keep ticking along. Everyone thinks, 'Well, Leinster beat Zebre at home comfortably', but unfortunately that's not the way it works. We've seen some of the turnarounds Zebre have had. They lost 13-62 in Cardiff, but then beat Cardiff at home. It's important we're on guard."
Today, they will be up against former team-mate Ian McKinlay, whose presence on any rugby field is a triumph.
The game of the day though is likely to be in Cardiff. A week ago, the home side were unlucky to lose out to Leinster and brought massive resolve to the game. They are now faced with three defeats on the trot if they lose to Les Kiss's men, who need to make up for having lost out at home last week to Scarlets.
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