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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Aviva Stadium, Dublin,
Saturday, 2nd October 2010, 19:30

Television: Live TG4

Leinster take on Munster on Saturday evening in the first competitive rugby match to be played at the redeveloped Lansdowne Road. Leinster have essentially ceded home advantage in order to cash in on the fixture's widespread appeal, although in the current economic climate you can't really blame them. There's no doubt though that Munster players and supporters will be far happier coming to the bright and shiny Aviva, rather than to the RDS where they've only won once. Last season they endured one of their worst defeats as a professional team there, when they lost 30-0. It was one of four consecutive defeats to Leinster in which Munster didn't even score a try. Munster will be absolutely desperate to bring that losing streak to an end and judging on recent form, they've every right to be confident.

Munster come into the game second in the table (Cardiff nipped ahead of them last night) with four wins from four and are the only team in the league with a 100% record. In stark contrast, Leinster come in with only one win from four and the performance last week against Edinburgh was one of their worst for years. After the hugely disappointing defeat in Treviso, Leinster would have expected a reaction from the players but the performance was unbelievably poor. Edinburgh had lost seven games on the trot, yet they looked like the All Blacks in comparison to Leinster's tepid efforts in both attack and defence. Once again it's far too early to blame Joe Schmidt, but it's worrying that the players seem to have forgotten all the harsh lessons they learned under Michael Cheika.

Yes, there are extenuating circumstances such as injuries and the disruption caused by the IRFU player welfare programme but there's no excuse for a display as incompetent and passive as that. In the old days, away performances like these were sadly all too common and it took Cheika years to beat it into players that they had to perform week in-week out, no matter what the game was. It was this hard-nosed attitude that formed the basis of Leinster's recent success and the players need to get it back quickly.

They'll face a Munster team who've managed to keep winning despite the demands of the player-management programme and their own injury list, which is in fact even longer than Leinster's. Munster's actual form has been steady rather than spectacular but they'll take that at this stage of the season, especially when they're still clocking up points. Coach Tony McGahan has taken a slightly different tack with his returning Irish internationals, mostly starting them on the bench and bringing them in to finish off games. This has enabled him to keep a more settled team and the results have backed up this strategy.

Once again with the team for tomorrow he has stayed faithful to this way of thinking with David Wallace on the bench so that the in-form Niall Ronan can keep his place at open-side flanker. Alan Quinlan replaces Wallace at blind-side in one of three changes to the team from their win over Glasgow last weekend. Denis Leamy completes the unit and will captain the team from number eight. He'll be hoping to continue his recent good form after losing most of last season to injury. The other two changes to the team are in the front row where Wian du Preez and John Hayes come in for Marcus Horan and Tony Buckley, who's had to drop out late due to a stomach bug. The two Donnchas, Ryan and O'Callaghan make up a powerful and mobile second row. The backline is unchanged from the last day and the two new signings, Sam Tuitupou and Johne Murphy, have settled in well. Overall, it's a very strong team that will take some beating.

The big question for Leinster is whether Jonny Sexton will start and the answer is we still don't know. He's been bracketed with Isa Nacewa in the number ten jersey but a final decision won't be made until nearer kick-off. Aside from that there are five changes in the team that started the last day. Isaac Boss comes in at scrum-half in place of Eoin Reddan who's been dropped to the bench. Boss will relish the physical battle with Tomas O'Leary and will hope to prove to the watching Declan Kidney that he still has something to offer at international level.

The rest of the changes are in the pack. Cian Healy comes in at loosehead prop in place of Heinke van der Merwe. Nathan Hines makes a welcome return to the second row in place of the injured Ed O'Donoghue. In the backrow only Dominic Ryan remains from the last day as Shane Jennings and Stephen Keogh drop out of the squad, Jennings due to a head injury sustained against Edinburgh. Sean O'Brien starts at open-side and Jamie Heaslip starts at number eight and also takes over the captaincy. Heaslip has become an inspirational leader in the team of late and should be a good choice as captain and all four additions should greatly enhance the pack's ball-carrying ability, which was sadly lacking the last day. The battle between the back-rows will be massive. Heaslip versus Leamy is basically a battle for the Ireland number eight jersey and it will be fascinating to see how Ryan goes against Quinlan who has sixteen years of experience on him. Ryan is quick and a big-tackler and he'll learn a lot from going head to head with Quinlan, as savvy a blindside as you'll find in the game.

With four wins on the trot against Munster, Leinster know what they have to do to beat them. However, knowing what they have to do doesn't make any easier to actually do it. They know they'll have to smash them at the breakdown, attack their set-piece and make their own defensive line an oppressive obstacle. They also know they'll have to take any points on offer. It's going to require a huge physical commitment to keep their run going but hopefully, with Heaslip leading the way, they can do it.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Munster Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney
15 Paul Warwick
Shane Horgan
14 Doug Howlett
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Liefeimi Mafi
Gordon D'Arcy
12 Sam Tuitupoa
Luke Fitzgerald
11 Johne Murphy
Jonathan Sexton / Isa Nacewa 10 Ronan O'Gara
Isaac Boss
9 Tomas O'Leary

Cian Healy
1 Wian du Preez
Richardt Strauss
2 Damien Varley
Mike Ross
3 John Hayes
Nathan Hines
4 Donncha O'Callaghan
Devin Toner
5 Donnacha Ryan
Dominic Ryan
6 Alan Quinlan
Sean O'Brien
7 Niall Ronan
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 Denis Leamy (C)

Replacements Jason Harris-Wright
16 Sean Henry
Heinke var der Merwe
17 Darragh Hurley
Simon Shawe
18 Marcus Horan
Mariano Galarza
19 Mick O'Driscoll
Rhys Ruddock
20 David Wallace
Eoin Reddan
21 Peter Stringer
Isa Nacewa / Ian Madigan 22 Scott Deasy
Fergus McFadden 23 Denis Hurley

Not Considered
due to Injury
Stan Wright
Leo Cullen
Kevin McLaughlin
Shaun Berne
Ed O'Donoghue
Shane Jennings
John Fogarty

Paul O'Connell
Jerry Flannery
Keith Earls
Felix Jones
Denis Fogarty
Ian Dowling
Barry Murphy
Officials Referee: Jerome Garces (FFR)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson (IRFU), Michael Black (IRFU)
4th Official: Ed Kenny (Leinster Rugby Referees)
5th Official: Tom Tuohy (Leinster Rugby Referees)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-10-02