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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Pro-14 Semi-Final
RDS Arena, Dublin,
Saturday, 19th May 2018, 15:15

TV: Live on Sky Sports/ TG4

Well that was way more tense that we expected but Leinster have their fourth star!

At the final whistle the main feeling was one of relief amongst the fans and that Leinster had gotten away with it as Remi Tales's attempted drop goal drifted well wide. Racing undoubtedly fought bravely and defended superbly, but they were also cynical as hell at the breakdown and they were allowed to be so by the incompetent team of officials led by Wayne Barnes. It's noteworthy that this was only Barnes's second final and when you remember his only previous one was another pig of a match in the final of 2010 between Toulouse and Biarritz, it makes sense. He is simply an inconsistent and arrogant referee who ruins games with his very presence and his retirement will be a cause for celebration on the beautiful day it arrives.

Watching the game again with a calmer perspective Leinster were undoubtedly the better team on the day, creating more line breaks and generally playing the more positive rugby on a day when defences were on top. Sure Leinster didn't get close to their best but instead of like last season when they fell apart when things went wrong, they showed more steel this time to put themselves in a winning position and then saw it out. It wasn't pretty but finals often aren't but it was a hard-fought win and sometimes a squad takes more satisfaction from that.

As in 2011 and 2012 Leinster have the chance to complete a league and cup double. On both those occasions they couldn't complete the deal losing in the final to Munster in Thomond Park in 2011 and to the Ospreys in the RDS a year later. Former players such as Eoin Reddan have spoken this week about how those defeats marred the seasons for them and this generation of Leinster players will be determined to become the first Pro14 team to win the league and cup double.

For Munster they will be desperate to retrieve something from a season that promised so much at one point. They've named a very strong team with just one change to the starting fifteen that defeated Edinburgh in the semi-final qualifier at Thomond Park two weeks ago as John Ryan comes into the side at tighthead prop. Hooker Rhys Marshall, a try-scorer in the Edinburgh win, and James Cronin complete the front row. Jean Kleyn is fit to team up with Billy Holland once again in the engine room and skipper Peter O'Mahony, Jack O'Donoghue and CJ Stander form the back row.

Simon Zebo starts at full-back with Andrew Conway on the right win and the Ireland Players' Player of the Year Keith Earls on the left. Rory Scannell is partnered by Sammy Arnold in the centre with the half-back pairing of Conor Murray and JJ Hanrahan also unchanged.

After such a bruising physical battle last week Leo Cullen has opted to freshen his team up. Joey Carbery will start at full back with Jordan Larmour and James Lowe on either wing. In the centre Leinster will be captained for the last time at the RDS Arena by Isa Nacewa and he will be partnered by Garry Ringrose. At half back, Luke McGrath will start at scrumhalf with Ross Byrne at ten.

In the front row Jack McGrath comes in to start and is joined by Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong. It's as you were in the second row with Devin Toner once again partnering James Ryan, man of the match in last week's final. Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan come in to the back row to start with Jordi Murphy moving to the openside from No. 8 in what will also be his last game in the RDS Arena.

With a more settled team and two weeks to prepare Munster should be favourites to win this one. But Leinster have named a very exciting team and with decent weather forecast this could turn into something of a shoot-out and if that happens, it could go either way.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Munster Rugby
Teams Joey Carbery 15 Simon Zebo
Jordan Larmour 14 Andrew Conway
Garry Ringrose 13 Sammy Arnold
Isa Nacewa (C) 12 Rory Scannell
James Lowe 11 Keith Earls
Ross Byrne 10 JJ Hanrahan
Luke McGrath 9 Conor Murray

Jack McGrath 1 James Cronin
Sean Cronin
2 Rhys Marshall
Tadhg Furlong 3 John Ryan
Devin Toner
4 Jean Kleyn
James Ryan 5 Billy Holland
Rhys Ruddock 6 Peter O'Mahony (C)
Jordi Murphy 7 Jack O'Donoghue
Jack Conan 8 CJ Stander

Replacements James Tracy 16 Niall Scannell
Cian Healy 17 Dave Kilcoyne
Andrew Porter 18 Ciaran Parker
Scott Fardy 19 Gerbrandt Grobler
Max Deegan 20
Robin Copeland
Nick McCarthy 21 Duncan Williams
Rory O'Loughlin 22 Ian Keatley
Barry Daly 23 Darren Sweetnam

Not Considered
due to Injury
Josh van der Flier,
Cathal Marsh,
Fergus McFadden,
Dave Kearney,
Sean O'Brien,
Richardt Strauss,
Robbie Henshaw,
Jonathan Sexton

Chris Farrell,
Chris Cloete,
Tyler Bleyendaal,
Jaco Taute,
Tommy O'Donnell,
Stephen Archer
Officials Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU),
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Craig Evans (WRU),
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2018-05-18