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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Saturday, 6th October 2012, 18:30

Television: Live TG4

Not good enough.

Not even close.

Leinster's performance last week against Connacht was simply unacceptable on every level. A defeat to Connacht in Galway is no disgrace, indeed Leinster were fortunate enough to win there last season. But the scale of the defeat (their heaviest in the league for five years) and manner of the performance was frankly shocking. Yes, it was a disrupted build-up to the match with the international camp early in the week and the injuries keep piling up, with three more players Gordon D'Arcy, Quinn Roux and Rob Kearney departing in the first quarter.

However, every player who puts on a Leinster jersey makes a commitment to maintain a certain standard. That commitment is that, win or lose, they will go down fighting, but that Leinster side hardly swung a punch all night. Their body language spoke of a team who had their excuses to lose, and were ready to call them in the minute the first, pathetically soft, Connacht try was scored. Injuries didn't help but it was a similarly depleted Connacht team with academy players at scrum-half and full back. Yet Leinster's effort was so weak they made Connacht look like the All Blacks, running through blue tacklers for sport. Fair play to Connacht, they played some great stuff and deserved their win, but Leinster made it ridiculously easy for them and that can't be tolerated.

Leinster have now conceded a staggering 18 tries in only five games, which is the worst record in the league, three more than winless, bottom-of-the-table Zebre. They only conceded 28 tries in the whole league campaign last season. Systems will be blamed but quite honestly there are quite a few players, junior and senior, that badly need to get back to basics with their tackling. All season, we've been passive in the tackle, conceding ground to ball carriers. They need to buck their ideas up, because they won't be around too much longer if they keep this up.

The word from the camp this week is that the squad are knocking lumps off each other in training and hopefully the prospect of Munster at the Aviva will sharpen players up. Munster themselves are on the rebound from a defeat to the Ospreys. Munster had actually started the season very well, with three wins from four, losing only away to Ulster in a cracking match. They were playing some very good rugby too, with new coach Rob Penney's more expansive gameplan getting a warm welcome from both the players and the fans alike. Indeed the try that Keith Earls scored against Ulster was a score any team would be proud of.

But last week was the first big test for the new gameplan and it barely made a dent in the Ospreys defence. If anything the 30-15 scoreline flattered Munster as the Ospreys blew several try-scoring chances and Munster rarely threatened to cross the line. The big question for Munster is will Ronan O'Gara be able to adjust his playing style to play the new gameplan. Last week he played extremely deep and couldn't get his backline going at all. The new style seems to suit Ian Keatley better with his greater physicality and pace. It's the first real test of new coach Penney's reign. Does he jettison O'Gara (and his superb goal-kicking) for Keatley's more creative style, even though the Dublin man is less consistent off the tee?

For this week at least he's stuck with O'Gara who will partner Conor Murray at half-back in the team that shows six changes from the team that lost to the Ospreys. All the changes come in the pack where only Mike Sherry and Donncha O'Callaghan retain their starting places from last week. Sherry has David Kilcoyne and BJ Botha propping either side of him. Kilcoyne might be seen as a surprise choice over Wian du Preez, but the young prop has been very impressive this season and deserves his shot in a big match.

Donncha Ryan comes in for his first start of the season in the second row and there's an all-new back row in the shape of Dave O'Callaghan, Sean Dougall and Peter O'Mahony at number eight. The backline is unchanged so James Downey is left on the bench and Keith Earls and Casey Laulala get another chance to form an understanding in midfield. Doug Howlett captains the team from the right wing with Simon Zebo on the other wing and Denis Hurley at full back.

For Leinster it's almost a case of patching the team together from who's fit at this stage. A bicep strain means Cian Healy misses out and Leo Cullen still isn't fully recovered from an arm injury so Jamie Heaslip captains Leinster on his 150th appearance for the province. He skippers a team that shows 13 changes (including two positional) from the team that started against Connacht.

The most eye-catching change is that Ian Madigan moves to full-back in place of the injured Rob Kearney. Andrew Conway is back on the right wing with Fergus McFadden moved back to inside centre where he'll partner Brian O'Driscoll. Isa Nacewa is back on the left wing after a sudden bout of illness forced him to make a late withdrawal from the starting team last week. Jonathan Sexton is at number ten and he'll be glad to see Eoin Reddan back at scrum-half after he recovered from a calf injury.

In the pack only Heinke van der Merwe and Shane Jennings retain their starting places from the debacle in Galway. Richardt Strauss makes a welcome return from injury and Mike Ross starts at tighthead. Damian Browne and Devin Toner are in the boiler room and Kevin McLaughlin completes the backrow with Jennings and Heaslip. It's a pretty inexperienced bench though and for the first time in a few years, Munster probably have the upper hand there.

Whatever about Tony McGahan's merits as Munster head coach, he could certainly organise a defence and Leinster haven't scored a try against them for three matches, going back to Shane Horgan's final Leinster try in Thomond Park. Leinster really need their talismen like Heaslip, O'Driscoll and Sexton to step up and set the tone right from the start. Munster definitely smell blood here and they would love nothing more than to become the first side to beat Leinster at the Aviva stadium. You can see it being another close match, dominated by the boots of the two tens, similar enough to the two games last season. Leinster ultimately won both those games though and hopefully they'll have enough about them to win this one as well.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Munster Rugby
Teams Ian Madigan
15 Denis Hurley
Andrew Conway 14 Doug Howlett (C)
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Keith Earls
Fergus McFadden
12 Casey Laulala
Isa Nacewa 11 Simon Zebo
Jonathan Sexton
10 Ronan O'Gara
Eoin Reddan
9 Conor Murray

Heinke van der Merwe 1 David Kilcoyne
Richardt Strauss
2 Mike Sherry
Mike Ross
3 BJ Botha
Damian Browne
4 Donncha O'Callaghan
Devin Toner 5 Donncha Ryan
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Dave O'Callaghan
Shane Jennings 7 Sean Dougall
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 Peter O'Mahony

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Damien Varley
Jack McGrath 17 Wian du Preez
Jamie Hagan
18 Stephen Archer
Tom Denton
19 Billy Holland
Jordi Murphy 20 Paddy Butler
John Cooney
21 Duncan Williams
Noel Reid
22 Ian Keatley
Fionn Carr
23 James Downey
Not considered
due to injury
Luke Fitzgerald,
Sean O'Brien,
Eoin O'Malley,
Rhys Ruddock,
David Kearney,
Mark Flanagan,
Conor Gilsenan,
Isaac Boss,
Dominic Ryan,
Aaron Dundon,
David Doyle,
Rob Kearney,
Gordon D'Arcy,
Quinn Roux,
Leo Cullen,
Cian Healy
  Paul O'Connell,
Felix Jones,
James Coughlan,
Marcus Horan,
Niall Ronan
Match Officials Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU),
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Simon McDowell (both IRFU),
4th Official: John Carvill (Leinster Rugby Referees),
5th Oficial: Barry O'Keeffe (Leinster Rugby Referees),
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-10-05