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Munster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Thomond Park, Limerick
Saturday, 4 April 2009, 19:30

Television: Live Setanta Sports 2

It's now or never for Leinster. A victory tomorrow won't necessarily win them the Magners League but a defeat will almost certainly mean their crown would be gone. If they lose they'll need Munster to slip up twice in their run-in, and with three of their last four games at home they're unlikely to do that. So if Leinster want to stay in the championship race, they have to win pure and simple.

Of course going to the home of the League Leaders and current European champions looking for a win is a daunting prospect. Munster are virtually at full-strength with only Denis Leamy and Rua Tipoki missing from their normal first choice team. The pack features six of Ireland's Grand Slam winning forwards in Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell and David Wallace. Alan Quinlan starts at six and Niall Ronan complete the pack.

Ronan is a former Leinster reserve who has put in some impressive performances for Munster this season, not least last week when he scored a hat-trick. However he upset his former team-mates and supporters with some comments in a Sunday Times interview just before Christmas. He questioned the Leinster players pride and passion in the jersey and wondered why people from outside Dublin actually support their own province ahead of Munster. He's entitled to his opinion, no doubt, but it will be interesting to see the reception he gets from both the travelling fans and the players, many of whom took exception to his remarks.

In the backs Keith Earls deputises for Tipoki alongside Lifeimi Mafi in what's a familiar looking backline at this stage. Ian Dowling returns from injury to start on the left wing, and Doug Howlett and Paul Warwick complete the back three. With his future now sorted out, Warwick will be relieved that he can concentrate on continuing his recent excellent form. Grand Slam winning half-backs Tomas O'Leary and Ronan O'Gara complete the back-line.

So it's an immensely strong Munster team and Leinster will be up against it, especially as they're missing some key men in CJ van der Linde, Brian O'Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald. This means Shane Horgan starts at centre for the first time since the start of last season. Horgan is a fine winger, but his selection in midfield will have raised some eyebrows among Leinster fans, who may feel there was better options available. Horgan starts at inside centre which means Gordon D'Arcy moves out to thirteen in place of Fergus McFadden who's unlucky to drop out of the squad.

Isa Nacewa takes Horgan's spot on the right wing which means Rob Kearney comes in on the left wing, allowing Girvan Dempsey to retain his spot at full back. Chris Whitaker and Felipe Contepomi start at half-back and it will be a special occasion for Felipe as it will be the last time he plays away to Munster wearing a Leinster jersey. Given Felipe's "special relationship" with the Munster fans and players, he'll really want to go out with a bang.

In the pack the only change from last week is the return of Ireland's number eight Jamie Heaslip, which sees Rocky Elsom return to blindside. Elsom deputised superbly for Heaslip in the eight jersey, but after an excellent championship Heaslip will be looking to re-assert himself as Leinster's main ball carrier. The results can only be good for the pack, in which Bernard Jackman and Cian Healy are also in great ball carrying form.

In the run-up to the game Leinster's pack has been largely dismissed in the media. One TV pundit, with the memory (and some would say I.Q.) of a goldfish, rubbished the Leinster forwards with the words "Stop Elsom and you stop Leinster!" Of course, the fact that this is largely the same pack that bested the Munster pack both home and away last season (without Elsom) has been conveniently forgotten.

Leinster's pride will have been hurt from the 18-0 defeat last autumn at the RDS. Getting beaten was bad enough, but getting nilled was plain humiliating. The memories of that, plus the insults thrown their way from various sources, will hopefully motivate them enough to produce the type of ferocious performance that they will need to beat Munster in Thomond.

Team Lineups

Munster Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Paul Warwick
15 Girvan Dempsey
Doug Howlett
14 Isa Nacewa
Keith Earls
13 Gordon D'Arcy
Lifeimi Mafi
12 Shane Horgan
Ian Dowling
11 Robert Kearney
Ronan O'Gara
10 Felipe Contepomi
Tomas O'Leary
9 Chris Whitaker

Marcus Horan
1 Cian Healy
Jerry Flannery
2 Bernard Jackman
John Hayes
3 Stan Wright
Donncha O'Callaghan
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Paul O'Connell
5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Alan Quinlan
6 Rocky Elsom
Niall Ronan
7 Shane Jennings
David Wallace
8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Denis Fogarty
16 John Fogarty
Tony Buckley
17 Ronan McCormack
Mick O'Driscoll
18 Hogan
Donnacha Ryan
19 Sean O'Brien
Peter Stringer
20 Cameron Jowitt
Barry Murphy
21 Simon Keogh
Denis Hurley
22 Jonathan Sexton

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-04-10