Power of Leinster’s front-five can help tip titanic tussle in their favour
Anyone who claims to have been surprised at the selection of both teams hasn’t been paying attention very closely.
There may be wholesale changes on either side, but this is still Munster against Leinster at a sold-out Thomond Park on Saturday night. It will always matter.
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Although this was never going to be two fully locked and loaded rivals going toe-to-toe, there is plenty to get excited about – not least Joey Carbery’s long-awaited comeback from an ankle injury.
All eyes, including Andy Farrell’s, will be on the out-half when he makes his return off the bench.
Carbery has not featured since the World Cup quarter-final defeat and has since been given an extended break by Munster in order to get his ankle fully right.
Leinster have been utterly unstoppable this season and their old foes would love nothing more than to put an end to their winning run which has seen them win all 12 games thus far.
That Leo Cullen’s men have picked up six from a possible eight try-scoring bonus points in the PRO14 tells you everything you need to know about how far ahead of the chasing pack they currently are.
For all of Leinster’s impressive results, in Europe and domestically, the win in Glasgow last month ranks as one of their best.
The majority of the same faces will line out in Limerick this evening with a plethora of young players looking to further enhance their reputations.
Some supporters may argue that they are not getting bang for their buck with two ‘weakened’ team selections, but Munster have still managed to include eight internationals with another six in the Leinster starting XV.
There are fascinating match-ups all over the pitch, not least the front-row, where the battle between Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter should be worth the entrance fee alone. Both props felt that they should have featured more often in Japan and in front of the new Ireland head coach, they have an ideal chance to prove why.
Kilcoyne is still working his way back to full fitness following a recent lay-off, while Porter has been outstanding all season having maintained his World Cup form.
Some of the country’s most exciting young backs will be on show, yet it is hard not to think that this derby will be won and lost in the front-five.
Fineen Wycherley made a name for himself in this fixture last year when he dumped Johnny Sexton to the ground – much to the delight of the locals.
The 22-year-old lock must channel that aggression in the right manner because he faces one of the toughest tests of his young career up against Devin Toner and Scott Fardy.
From that end, there will be a big onus on Billy Holland, who captains Munster, to lead by example in the engine-room.
Toner has arguably been the form Irish lock this season, while Fardy doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. If the vastly experienced Leinster duo get the upper hand, it can provide the platform for Ross Byrne to pull the strings and get the likes of Hugo Keenan and James Lowe involved.
Carbery won’t be the only former Blue looking to get one over on his old side as Nick McCarthy is handed an ideal chance to do the same.
The scrum-half’s Munster career has yet to really ignite, but there is no better time to change that than up against Jamison Gibson-Park, who is fresh off his first stint in an Ireland camp.
Dan Goggin has been shoehorned in on the wing and will have the unenviable task of trying to keep Lowe quiet. A centre by trade, Leinster will target Goggin and he must handle whatever is thrown at him.
Johann van Graan’s plan will be to give Carbery 20 minutes or so by which stage, he will hope that his star man can turn what is likely to be a close contest in Munster’s favour.
For that to happen, however, the home side will have to conjure up something special because as Leinster have proved time and time again this season, regardless of who plays, their standards rarely drop.
If Leinster hit those kind of heights again, they will be tough to stop, but Munster will relish that challenge at a heaving Thomond Park.
MUNSTER – M Haley; D Goggin, S Arnold, R Scannell, S Daly; JJ Hanrahan, N McCarthy; D Kilcoyne, K O’Byrne, S Archer; F Wycherley, B Holland (capt); T O’Donnell, C Cloete, J O’Donoghue. Reps: D Barron, J Loughman, K Knox, D O’Shea, J O’Sullivan, N Cronin, J Carbery, C Nash.
LEINSTER – H Keenan; A Byrne, J O’Brien, C O’Brien, J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, J Tracy, A Porter; D Toner, S Fardy; J Murphy, W Connors, C Doris. Reps: S Cronin, P Dooley, J Aungier, R Molony, S Penny, R Osborne, C Frawley, T O’Brien.
Ref – F Murphy (Ireland).
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