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Munster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Musgrave Park, Cork
Friday, 30 November 2007, 19:30

TV: Setanta Sports 2 (live), Setanta Sports Ireland (Friday, 21:30 - repeat)

It's the big one!  This is the derby that every Leinster and Munster fan looks for first when the Magners Fixture list is announced.  Munster v Leinster has always been special but every year the intensity around the fixture seems to increase.  And tomorrow's night fixture is so full of drama that it promises to be an explosive battle.

For a start, the winner of the match will go to the top of the Magners League.  Then you have the fact that the Heineken Cup starts back next week and neither team will want to re-enter the competition on the back of a defeat.  But it's only when you look at the make-up of the sides that the real battles emerge.  From an Ireland perspective there's a load of key individual battles: Jackman versus Flannery, Jennings versus Wallace and Heaslip versus Leamy.  Three Munster players who went to the World Cup versus three Leinster players that did not.  It promises to be an interesting confrontation.

But the battles don't end there.  There promises to be a titanic battle in the scrums between the two old warhorses Ollie Le Roux and John Hayes.  Leo Cullen and Malcolm O'Kelly will also want to make a statement against Donncha O'Callaghan and Mick O'Driscoll.  The Irish centre pairing of D'Arcy & O'Driscoll will look forward to the battle against the Kiwi pair of Mafi & Tipoki, who's been gaining plaudits in the media.

However, all these battles pale into insignificance when compared to the battle at ten between Felipe Contepomi and Ronan O'Gara.  Let's just say there's a bit of history here already and this wasn't helped by the Ireland - Argentina World Cup match where the two repeatedly exchanged words.  Munster have gotten to Contepomi is the past, mainly through O'Gara, Leamy and O'Callaghan.  He's had his good and bad days versus Munster and he'll no doubt receive plenty of abuse from the crowd.  But it's vital that Contepomi keeps his head if Leinster are to have any chance of a win.

Contepomi moves back to fly-half after playing in the centre against the Ospreys.  Gordon D'Arcy makes a welcome return from injury to take the number twelve jersey and Jonny Sexton drops to the bench in the only change to the backline that beat the Ospreys.

For Leinster most of the changes are in the pack as players return from being rested last week.  Ollie Le Roux and Bernard Jackman return to the front row and Stan Wright moves back across to tighthead.  Malcolm O'Kelly returns to the second row to partner Leo Cullen and it's all change in the backrow with Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings and Stephen Keogh coming in.  Keogh will be delighted to have made it back from injury in time to take on his old teammates.

Not unexpectedly Munster have recalled most of their first choice team despite the hammering they gave the Dragons last week.  Of the starting pack only Donncha Ryan remains and he moves to blindside to replace the unfortunate Alan Quinlan who's out for eight weeks with a hand injury.  He makes up the backrow with the returning Denis Leamy and David Wallace.   Anthony Foley and Niall Ronan both drop to the bench.  Donncha O'Callaghan takes Ryan's place at lock and it's the regular front row of John Hayes, Jerry Flannery and Marcus Horan.  Some Munster fans consider Tony Buckley to be unlucky to miss out as his form has been very impressive this season.

In the backs Ronan O'Gara returns to captain the side, with Paul Warwick dropping to the bench.  An injury to Brian Carney sees Kieran Lewis move out from the centre to take his place with the impressive Kiwi import Rua Tipoki resuming at outside centre.  Shaun Payne replaces Denis Hurley, who's unlucky to drop out of the match squad after impressing against the Dragons.

It's a very strong Munster starting line-up with an impressive bench as well.  The feeling in Munster is that they're 15 point favourites.  However, it may suit Leinster to go into the Lions den as firm underdogs.  Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings were both part of the Leicester Tigers team that beat Munster at Thomond last season.  They'll be imparting on their team-mates the importance of facing the Munster pack down for eighty minutes.  It's forecast to be a dirty, wet, windy night so don't expect too much flowing rugby.  This match will come down to the grunts up front and whichever kicker keeps his nerve.  It's going to be tough but if Leinster can summon up the type of performance that beat Leicester, then they'll have a chance.

Either way here's hoping for a great match and for the fans from both sides to meet up for a pint and a sing-song both before and after the match.  Let's just hope Munster fans have learnt a third song so we don't have listen to the "The Fields" and that Gilbert & Sullivan number all night!

Team Lineups
  Munster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Teams Shaun Payne 15 Rob Kearney
Kieran Lewis 14 Shane Horgan
Rua Tipoki 13 Brian O'Driscoll (C)
Lifeimi Mafi 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Ian Dowling 11 Luke Fitzgerald
Ronan O'Gara 10 Felipe Contepomi
Peter Stringer 9 Cillian Willis
Marcus Horan 1 Ollie Le Roux
Jerry Flannery 2 Bernard Jackman
John Hayes 3 Stanley Wright
Donnacha O'Callaghan 4 Leo Cullen
Mick O'Driscoll 5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Donncha Ryan 6 Stephen Keogh
David Wallace 7 Shane Jennings
Denis Leamy 8 Jamie Heaslip
Replacements Tony Buckley 16 Brian Blaney
Frank Sheahan 17 Cian Healy
Anthony Foley 18 Cameron Jowitt
Niall Ronan 19 Keith Gleeson
Gerry Hurley 20 Chris Keane
Paul Warwick 21 Johnny Sexton
Barry Murphy 22 Christian Warner
Not Considered
due to Injury
    Girvan Dempsey,
Trevor Hogan,
Stephen Knoop,
Ronnie McCormack,
Fergus McFadden,
Chris Whitaker

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU),
Sub Referee: Colin Stanley (IRFU),
Touch Judge: Mark Hermin (IRFU),
TMO: Brian Fitzgerald (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-11-29