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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Guinness Pro14, Round 6
Aviva Stadium, Dublin,
Saturday, 07th October 2017, 14:00

TV: Live on TG4/Sky Sports

Didn't I say it was going to be a shit-show!

As predicted, last week's game against Edinburgh was a manky, error-strewn display of rugby dross. The rustiness could be forgiven with the "top, top" international players (the ones that wore the red jerseys on that imperialist relic of a tour last summer) returning but once again it was an awful team display with the missed tackle count in the twenties for the third game running. What was less forgivable was the daft decision-making which saw Leinster refuse to take easy points from kicking a penalty even once in a tight game. Treating the game like a pre-season friendly, Leinster kicked everything to touch with a mixture of arrogance and stupidity. It worked once but gradually Leinster's maul was matched and then their lineout fell apart. None of this mattered to Captain Johnny Sexton, who chose to kick to touch regardless as a matter of course. At least he had the decency to look suitably embarrassed when some goon decided he was man of the match over more deserving candidates like Jordi Murphy and Sean Cronin.

He wasn't the only one guilty of poor judgement though.

Two scores clear with only a few minutes left, Leinster had a chance to steal a (thoroughly undeserved) four-try bonus point and could go for it, safe in the knowledge that the win was secure.

So, hold onto the ball and try to work a try, yes? Well, no actually.

Not one, not two, but three different Leinster players chose to kick the ball away in the last three minutes in a display of brainlessness that beggared belief. The only benefit of such a garbage display is that it would surely have been a kick in the arse for training this week and an improvement must surely come...oh hang on, didn't I say the same thing last week?

In any case, if Leinster don't find some kind of form soon, they could find their European season stillborn with two seriously tough fixtures coming up against Montpelier and Glasgow, arguably the two form teams in their respective leagues.

First up though is the Munster match, which is the traditional warm-up for European action. It's sad to say, but the Munster game just doesn't stir the blood like it did in the old days of Donnybrook and the RDS. The tepid, sanitised environs of the Aviva stadium doesn't do it many favours and the daft early kick off time of two o'clock won't do much for the atmosphere either. As is often the case with the first meeting of the season, both teams come into the game with near identical records. Both team are second in their respective Pro 14 pools with 19 points from fours wins and one defeat. The two defeats were both heavy ones on the road, the Cheetahs for Leinster, Glasgow for Munster and both happened on the same night. Both teams bounced back with a scrappy win at home last week. although Munster will be happier with the way they pulled clear of Cardiff in the second half of the match. Both teams have a fair few injuries and both are very short of options in a particular position, the centre for Leinster, the second row for Munster.

Munster have actually signed two former Leinster locks in the last couple of weeks. Devin Toner's cousin Mark Flanagan has joined from Saracens on a three month deal as injury cover and Tadhg Beirne has been signed for next season. Flanagan is named on the bench as the same pack that started last week goes out again. However it's a much changed backline which sees four changes as Rassie Erasmus has interestingly chosen to start all three of his out-halves. Ian Keatley retains the number 10 jersey after impressing last week so Tyler Bleyendaal has been named in the centre alongside Chris Farrell. After scoring two tries when he came on last weekend JJ Hanrahan is named at full-back, with Andrew Conway and Keith Earls, who'll be making his first appearance of the season, named on the wings. It's an unfamiliar but potent looking backline.

For Leinster the big news is the return to fitness of Robbie Henshaw who's desperately needed to plug the gaps in what has been a porous midfield this season. He's one of three changes to the backline along with Adam Byrne and Barry Daly coming in on the wings. There are three further changes in the pack with James Tracy, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan all coming in to start.

Munster haven't been helped by their coaching situation with Erasmus working out his notice while the media pick a new South African coach each week who's supposedly going to replace him and then maybe isn't. The players have done their best to get on with it and they'll be eager to test out all the flaws that have been evident in Leinster's game this season.

For Leinster's sake, you'd hope the two Lions in the pack would be better than they were last week. With Jamie Heaslip out of contention for the autumn internationals you'd hope Jack Conan can lay down a serious marker for the green number eight jersey against CJ Stander. Given the captaincy again this week, you'd hope Sexton can make better decisions and manage the game smarter. And after Scott Fardy started a mass brawl last week, you'd like to thing he'd be the type of war dog to take the fight to the Munster pack.

It's going to be tough but hopefully Leinster can earn a win to kick-start their season.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Munster Rugby
Teams Joey Carbery 15 JJ Hanrahan
Adam Byrne 14 Andrew Conway
Rory O'Loughlin 13 Chris Farrell
Robbie Henshaw 12 Tyler Bleyendaal
Barry Daly 11 Keith Earls
Johnny Sexton (C)
10 Ian Keatley
Luke McGrath 9 Conor Murray

Jack McGrath 1 Dave Kilcoyne
James Tracy 2 Niall Scannell
Tadhg Furlong 3 John Ryan
Devin Toner 4 Robin Copeland
Scott Fardy 5 Billy Holland
Rhys Ruddock 6 Peter O'Mahony (C)
Josh van der Flier 7 Tommy O'Donnell
Jack Conan 8 CJ Stander

Replacements Sean Cronin
16 Rhys Marshall
Cian Healy 17 Liam O'Connor
Michael Bent 18 Stephen Archer
Ross Molony 19 Mark Flanagan
Jordi Murphy 20
Jack O'Donoghue
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Duncan Williams
Ross Byrne 22 Rory Scannell
Fergus McFadden 23 Alex Wootton

Not Considered
due to Injury
Tom Daly,
Peadar Timmins,
Jamie Heaslip,
Garry Ringrose,
Richardt Strauss,
Rob Kearney,
Dan Leavy,
Ian Nagle,
Isa Nacewa,
James Ryan,
Noel Reid

Jaco Taute,
Jean Kleyn,
Dan Goggin,
Darren O'Shea,
Gerbrant Groebler,
Dave O'Callaghan,
Sean O'Connor,
Sam Arnold,
Ronan O'Mahony,
Conor Oliver,
James Cronin
Officials Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2017-10-13

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