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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Friday, 4th November 2011, 20:00

Television: Live TG4

If there's one thing to banish the blues of the World Cup and get the provincial juices flowing, it's Leinster v Munster at the Aviva Stadium. The late Friday night kick-off time will probably prevent it from being a complete sell-out but there still should be about around 46,000+ fans present. With the Heineken Cup starting next week, both teams will be looking to up their intensity and performance in this match.

Both teams come in with near identical records of five wins and two defeats and only points difference separates them into second and third place in the table behind leaders the Ospreys. Munster actually started off the season much better than Leinster, continuing their remarkable consistency of last term by winning their first four games. They actually created a new league record for consecutive wins of 14 when they beat the Blues in Cardiff.

However injuries and sickness finally caught up with them when they had to send a very young team to Edinburgh, which was beaten 29-14. More surprising was the home defeat to the Ospreys the week after. This allowed Leinster to draw level with Munster after their own bad start to the league. Leinster coach Joe Schmidt knows the one place he doesn't want to go for the League final this year is Thomond Park again. So he'll be very pleased that he has them back in his sights again, especially as they looked to be shooting off into the distance again after the first few games.

Both teams had some of their World Cup players back last week and while they both recorded wins, neither will be especially pleased with their performance. Leinster will be happy to have earned a win away to Edinburgh, always an awkward place to visit, but they won't be thrilled with the try chances they blew and their defence, which was abject at times. Munster will actually be happy with their defence, with only four tries conceded in seven games, it's comfortably the best in the league. However, even in the wet conditions in Musgrave Park, they will be disappointed not to have scored at least one try against the bottom-placed team Aironi.

This is a big season for Munster in that they have to bounce back from their early exit from the Heineken Cup last year. They salvaged something from their season by winning the Magners League, but it was still a blow to the solar plexus from which they have still to completely recover. You get the sense they won't fully regain their self-belief until they're back in the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup. To achieve that, they'll need to navigate a tricky pool that includes Northampton, Castres and the Scarlets. It's not an easy group, but if Munster can return to their best form, then should be able to qualify. They'll be looking to emulate Leinster who responded to not qualifying from their group four seasons ago by winning the tournament the following term.

Returning to their best form mightn't be that easy when the team is in transition though. They are in the middle of a changing of the guard and mainstays like Alan Quinlan, Paul Warwick and Ian Dowling are gone from last season. John Hayes was nearly gone too, but has been kept around for another while due to injuries to other props. Last season their form seemed to improve when coach Tony McGahan placed his trust in younger players and the likes of Conor Murray, Danny Barnes and Felix Jones all made an impressive contribution to the end of the league campaign. This season they're going to need some more of their young players to break through.

With all the disruption caused by the World Cup it's hard to know exactly where Munster are as a team form-wise at the moment so this game will be instructive for all concerned. To be fair you can say the same thing about Leinster. One consistent problem last season for Munster was their discipline and with seven yellow cards in seven games, this is clearly still an issue. This contrasts starkly with Leinster who remarkably haven't had a single yellow card so far this season.

McGahan has named a team with three personnel changes from last week plus a number of positional switches. Lifeimi Mafi comes into the centre for Danny Barnes and he partners Will Chambers, a short-term signing from the Queensland Reds. Doug Howlett and Keith Earls are on the wing and with the luckless Felix Jones out injured again; the versatile Johne Murphy is trusted with the full back slot. In their most competitive position of scrum-half, Conor Murray has been given the nod to partner Ronan O'Gara with Tomas O'Leary on the bench.

In the pack their two South African props Wian du Preez and BJ Botha make up a powerful front row with hooker Damien Varley. In the second row, Donncha O'Callaghan is back to partner the captain Paul O'Connell, which means Donnacha Ryan moves to the blindside flanker. This is turn means Denis Leamy moves to number eight and James Coughlan is somewhat unlucky to drop to the bench. The final change is at openside where the more experienced Niall Ronan comes in for Peter O'Mahony.

For Leinster, Schmidt has made seven personnel changes with Cian Healy, Shane Jennings, Sean O'Brien, Gordon D'Arcy, and Jamie Heaslip all making their first Leinster appearances of the season. Jennings, O'Brien and Heaslip all come in to make up the backrow. Devin Toner's recent good form sees him retained in the second row alongside captain Leo Cullen. In the front row, Mike Ross is the only survivor from last weekend as Richardt Strauss comes in at hooker with Healy at loosehead. Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe and Kevin McLaughlin all drop to the bench to make up a particularly strong selection of forward replacements along with Rhys Ruddock and Jamie Hagan. The fact that Dominic Ryan misses out completely is a reflection of the strength in depth.

In the backs Isaac Boss starts again after his fine performance last weekend and he partners Jonathan Sexton. In midfield D'Arcy starts at inside centre, which means Fergus McFadden moves to outside centre and Eoin O'Malley drops to the bench. The final change is Isa Nacewa coming in on the right wing for Dave Kearney and he makes up a strong back three with Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald. Brian O'Driscoll was training with the squad this week but the decision was made to give him another week's recovery from his shoulder injury before Europe starts. Eoin Reddan is the final World Cup squad member back in the mix but he must be content with a place on the bench for now.

After getting it in the neck for losing those five matches in a row to Leinster, Munster are now aiming to continue their own winning streak of two matches. Those two wins were in Thomond Park though and they came before and after two massive Heineken Cup matches for Leinster. If Munster can win tomorrow though, Leinster will have no excuses to fall back on.

Whether they will win is hard to say though. Leinster have named the stronger team on paper but once the two teams start tearing into one another all that goes out the window and it comes down to the team with the greater desire on the night. It will be tough and tight and there will probably only be a score in it, but hopefully Leinster will have enough firepower to remain unbeaten at the Aviva.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Munster Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney
15 Johne Murphy
Isa Nacewa 14 Doug Howlett
Fergus McFadden
13 Will Chambers
Gordon D'Arcy
12 Liefeimi Mafi
Luke Fitzgerald 11 Keith Earls
Jonathan Sexton
10 Ronan O'Gara
Isaac Boss
9 Conor Murray

Cian Healy
1 Wian du Preez
Richardt Strauss
2 Damien Varley
Mike Ross
3 BJ Botha
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Donncha O'Callaghan
Devin Toner 5 Paul O'Connell (C)
Sean O'Brien
6 Donnacha Ryan
Shane Jennings
7 Niall Ronan
Jamie Heaslip
8 Denis Leamy

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Denis Fogarty
Heinke van der Merwe 17 Marcus Horan
Jamie Hagan 18 John Hayes
Kevin McLaughlin 19 Peter O'Mahony
Rhys Ruddock 20 James Coughlan
Eoin Reddan 21 Tomas O'Leary
Ian Madigan 22 Ian Keatley
Eoin O'Malley 23 Danny Barnes

Not Considered
due to Injury
Mat Berquist,
Eamonn Sheridan,
Shane Horgan,
Simon Shawe,
Tom Sexton

Jerry Flannery,
Felix Jones,
David Wallace,
Mike Essex,
Troy Smith,
Peter Borlase
Officials Referee: Pascal Gauzere (FFR)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Simon McDowell (both IRFU)
4th Official: John Montayne (Leinster Rugby Referees)
5th Official: Tom Tuohy (Leinster Rugby Referees)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-11-07