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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 6
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Saturday, 8th October 2016, 14:05

Television: Live: TG4/Sky Sports

There seems to have been a concerted effort in the media to put a bit of spite back into this fixture in the build-up to Saturday. Maybe it's the fact the game has been moved to the sterile environs of the Aviva, but there's definitely been a lack of bite and bitterness to it over the last few seasons. So we've had winsome recollections of the days when the fixture was defined by brutal shoeings, vicious rucks and off the ball incidents. Of course, none of this is ancient history.

The Munster-Leinster games that matter don't belong to distant figures from the Seventies like Moss Keane and Fergus Slattery. Frankly, no one gave two shites about a Leinster - Munster game provincial game in the amateur era, least of all the players. Most of the top international players of the day would do their best to get out of playing in them, preferring to play for their clubs instead. For a rugby fan in the late 80's and early 90's the inter-provincial championship was a mostly a joke that only Ulster took seriously. In theory the countries best players would face off with each other but when you looked at the teams, most of the stars simply weren't there. In his early amateur days in rugby Keith Wood was quite frank about considering playing for Munster as a massive pain in the arse. He'd far prefer to be playing for his club and Leinster's top players felt the exact same way.

Professionalism changed things for the better. After the lunatic suggestion that Irish AIL clubs be sent into Europe to compete with the likes of Toulouse and Leicester was firmly put to bed, Irish rugby had to get realistic. Instead they reverted to type and the four proud provinces of Ireland were reborn and the rest is history.

Between 2005 to 2011 was probably the high-point in the rivalry before first Munster and then Leinster saw their fortunes decline on the pitch. But both teams need to rebuild and given how the rivalry helped to drive both teams onto their original success, it's probably not a bad plan to give it a jolt of electricity.

Quite how much electricity you'll get in the crowd at two o'clock in the afternoon remains to be seen however. It's an awful kick-off time for this fixture and will doubtless hurt the crowd numbers. Munster have started the season in solid if unspectacular form, a narrow home defeat to Cardiff the only blemish on Rassie Erasmus's record so far. The losing bonus point from that game keeps them just ahead of Leinster in the table in second place but this will be their biggest test of the season after mostly playing lower placed teams so far.

The good news for Munster and Ireland is that Peter O'Mahony is back fit to make his first start in over a year. He captains the team and Billy Holland switches to the second row to accommodate his return. Niall Scannell and John Ryan come into the front row in the other changes to the pack. There are two further changes in the backs where Rory Scannell and Ronan O'Mahony come in to start.

Leinster come into the game on the back of a tough win earned over in Cardiff. The performance was far from perfect but it was a good win all the same. There are eleven changes to the team that started last week. There's a pleasant surprise for Leinster fans in that Robbie Henshaw is fit to make his debut for Leinster tomorrow. He is one of 13 changes (two positional) to the team that started last week. Rory O'Loughlin is rewarded for his fine performance last week with another start but this week he switches to the wing in an all new back three with Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa. Garry Ringrose comes back in to partner Henshaw for the first time and this is a combination that will hopefully line out in blue and green for years to come. Luke McGrath comes in at scrum-half to partner the on-form Johnny Sexton.

In the pack former Munster man Ian Nagle is in the only player to retain his jersey from last week. He's partnered in the second row by Devin Toner and there's a whole new front row of Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong. Rhys Ruddock moves from number eight to blindside and Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip come in to start.

Leinster's team looks the stronger and should win but if the spite returns to the fixture and it becomes a battle then anything can happen.

Whatever the result, the fans from both sides will retire to the local pubs afterwards to debate the merits of the game. Sadly this year their number will be two fewer that normal. Both sides lost a stalwart supporter in the last year, Munster's Peadar Murtagh and Leinster's Dave Rodgers. Everyone who had the privilege of knowing them will hopefully raise a glass to their memory tomorrow. RIP.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Munster Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Simon Zebo
Rory O'Loughlin 14 Darren Sweetnam
Garry Ringrose 13 Keith Earls
Robbie Henshaw 12 Rory Scannell
Isa Nacewa (C) 11 Ronan O'Mahony
Johnny Sexton 10 Tyler Bleyendaal
Luke McGrath
9 Conor Murray

Cian Healy 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Sean Cronin 2 Niall Scannell
Tadhg Furlong 3 John Ryan
Devin Toner 4 Donnacha Ryan
Ian Nagle 5 Billy Holland
Rhys Ruddock 6 Peter O'Mahony (C)
Jordi Murphy 7 Tommy O'Donnell
Jamie Heaslip 8 CJ Stander

Replacements James Tracy 16 Duncan Casey
Jack McGrath 17 James Cronin
Mike Ross 18 Stephen Archer
Ross Molony 19 Robin Copeland
Dan Leavy 20
Jack O'Donoghue
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Duncan Williams
Joey Carbery 22 Ian Keatley
Noel Reid 23 Jaco Taute

Not Considered
due to Injury
Edward Byrne,
Jack Conan,
Sean O'Brien,
Richardt Strauss,
Ian Fitzpatrick,
Billy Dardis,
Fergus McFadden,
Dave Kearney

Officials Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 45rd competition game),
Assistant Referees: Stuart Gaffikin, Richard Kerr (both IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU),
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-10-14