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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Royal Dublin Society, Showground
Saturday, 3rd October 2009, 18:30

Television: Live Setanta Sports 1

Here we go again!

Leinster take on Munster at the RDS this Saturday evening. The theme of the match will of course be REVENGE!

For Munster, it's revenge for what happened in Croke Park last May when they were comprehensively beaten 25-6!

For Leinster, it's revenge for what happened in the RDS a year ago when they were comprehensively beaten 18-0!

Michael Cheika spoke during the week of how the team who it was the most "mentally angry" that usually won, so both he and Tony McGahan will no doubt be stirring their troops up before kick-off. Cheika also spoke of the tit-for-tat nature of the results between the two teams: "they win one, we win one, we win two, they win two". Now in his fifth year as Leinster coach, Cheika's record against Munster is dead even: won five, lost five. In the same timeframe both teams have won one Magners League each, but of course Munster have won two Heineken Cups to Leinster's one. If, as expected, Cheika leaves at the end of the season, he'd love to even up the Heineken Cup record.

Coming into this match, there's again little to separate the two sides in terms of their first four matches. Both started their league campaigns with away defeats but have bounced back with three consecutive wins. Both teams are on 13 points, with only match points difference separating them. Neither side will be completely thrilled with their form so far, which has been hit and miss at best. Munster will be marginally happier, as at least they're scoring tries; they've scored nine compared to Leinster's two. As with midway through last season, Leinster are going through a dry spell with regard to tries. Anyone looking at the standard of the backline will find this baffling, but Cheika insists the tries will come. The quality of the handling will have to improve dramatically for that to happen though.

Leinster's victories this season have largely been down to the boots of Jonny Sexton and Fergus McFadden. Last week they accounted for all the points as Leinster got a rare win in Edinburgh, although they were blessed that Chris Paterson chose the last minute of the game to miss his first kick of the season. While they'll always take an away win, it was a very frustrating performance by Leinster. The discipline was awful as Leinster repeatedly gave away penalty after penalty. The dunce cap will have gotten good use in the video review on Monday. Another irritating aspect was how they stepped off the gas when playing against fourteen men and conceded a soft try. Repeatedly this season they've failed to score when playing against fourteen or even thirteen men. It seems to be a mental problem as much as anything but it needs rectifying. They need to be ruthless and learn that you need to up the effort when the opposition are weakened and not to think scores will come easier.

On the positive side though, the defence was good and they showed great character to dig out a win when they could easily have lost. The determination at the end of the match to win the restart that led to the winning drop goal was outstanding. The heart and character is there, Leinster just need to improve their precision and cut out the silly indiscipline to reach the level we know they can achieve.

They'll need to improve their form significantly to have a chance against a Munster team that was very impressive in their four-try second half destruction of the Dragons last week. Nick Williams was man of the match with three of the tries and he's finally showing what he's capable of after his first season with Munster was destroyed by injury. He's a beast of a man, but also has good skills and stopping him will be a big job for the Leinster backrow. Williams keeps his place in the Munster backrow, which means Denis Leamy plays at six alongside Niall Ronan who replaces Tommy O'Donnell at openside. The other change in the pack is the return of John Hayes for Tony Buckley.

In the backs Keith Earls makes his first appearance of the season after crying off late last weekend. He replaces Felix Jones at fullback and Doug Howlett retains his spot on the right wing after coming on early for the injured Barry Murphy last week. With Denis Hurley in great form on the left wing, it's an exciting looking Munster back three. Of course, a lot of attention will be focused on Jean de Villiers, their big summer signing, who made a decent if somewhat quiet debut last week. While the South African is undoubtedly a quality player it remains to be seen if he'll combine well with Lifeimi Mafi who's been moved back to outside centre after playing so well at twelve last season.

Suspending provincial loyalties for a moment, all true Irish rugby fans will be happy to see scrum-half Tomas O'Leary back so soon after the horrific injury that cost him his place on the Lions tour. There may have been fears he was being brought back too early but so far he looks as good as ever, although hopefully not too good on Saturday.

For Leinster the big news that Brian O'Driscoll is back has probably been supplanted by the news that Isa Nacewa has been recalled at full-back in place of Rob Kearney. It was undoubtedly a tight call but Nacewa's excellent early season form probably just got him the nod. O'Driscoll's return means that Fergus McFaddden drops to the bench. The other change in the backs is the return of Jonny Sexton at out-half, who's taken over from Felipe Contepomi as the Leinster player Munster fans love to hate. His head to head battle with Ronan O'Gara, the man he wants to replace as Ireland out-half, will be worth the ticket price on its own. Sexton's form has been excellent this season but he'll be under extra pressure tomorrow and will have to keep a cool head.

In the pack the only change is the return of Shane Jennings in place of Sean O'Brien who takes his place on what is an incredibly strong Leinster bench. The same must also be said of the Munster bench where Jerry Flannery, Paul O'Connell, David Wallace and Paul Warwick make their first appearances of the season. It's highly likely that the two respective benches will have a major bearing on the result.

Calling this match is extremely difficult. With both teams facing tough English opposition in the Heineken Cup next week, they know they have to find their form and can no longer use early season rustiness as an excuse. Expect a tough, furious but scrappy game that will be decided by a single score. Hopefully Leinster will use the memory of being nilled at home in the fixture last season to dig out an important win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Munster Rugby
Teams Isa Nacewa 15 Keith Earls
Shane Horgan 14 Doug Howlett
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Lifeimi Mafi
Gordon d'Arcy
12 Jean de Villiers
Luke Fitzgerald
11 Denis Hurley
Jonathan Sexton
10 Ronan O'Gara (C)
Eoin Reddan
9 Tomas O'Leary

Cian Healy 1 Marcus Horan
John Fogarty
2 Denis Fogarty
Stanley Wright
3 John Hayes
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Donncha O'Callaghan
Nathan Hines
5 Mick O'Driscoll
Kevin McLaughlin
6 Denis Leamy
Shane Jennings 7 Niall Ronan
Jamie Heaslip
8 Nick Williams

Replacements Bernard Jackman
16 Jerry Flannery
Mike Ross
17 Tony Buckley
Malcolm O'Kelly
18 Paul O'Connell
Sean O'Brien
19 David Wallace
Simon Keogh
20 Peter Stringer
Fergus McFadden
21 Paul Warwick
Rob Kearney
22 Ian Dowling

Not considered
due to injury
Eoin O'Malley
CJ van der Linde
Trevor Hogan

Match Officials Referee: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
Assistant Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU), Michael Black (IRFU)
4th Official: Peter Dennehy (ARLB)
5th Official: Tom Tuohy (ARLB)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-10-02