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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Pro14 Round 14
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Saturday, 22nd August 2020, 19:35

TV: Live on Eir Sports

After an almost six-month break since their last game at home to Glasgow at the end of February, Leinster are back in action tomorrow evening.

The Covid-19 lockdown has been tough on everyone and our sympathies go out to everyone in the rugby community who's been ill or has lost a loved one. Sport has brought some relief to the tedium of the lockdown and while rugby has long since resumed in the southern hemisphere, now Leinster fans have some meaningful rugby to watch tomorrow evening.

Well meaningful might be a stretch to be fair.

Because six of the remaining eight fixtures have now been scrapped in the curtailed season, Leinster have already topped Conference A and will have a home semi-final on the first weekend of September. So the two interprovincial derbies against Munster and Ulster will effectively serve as pre-season friendlies for Leinster to get some match sharpness back. And they could well be needed as there will be some understandable rustiness.

For Munster things are much tighter in Conference B. They currently trail leaders Edinburgh (who face a double header against Glasgow this week and next) by two points. They will be desperate to avoid another Pro-14 semi-final in Dublin having ended their seasons there in the previous two years. They have been aided in their ambitions by the earlier than planned arrival of their marquee South African signings R.G. Snyman and Damian de Allende. They will bring a massive physical presence as you'd expect from Springboks but both are fine footballers too with delicate handling skills.

They are both named to make their debuts in a strong starting team for Munster. Chris Farrell teams up with de Allende to form a massive centre partnership. Shane Daly is named at full back and Andrew Conway and Keith Earls are the wings. With Joey Carbery crocked again Munster will need to keep JJ Hanrahan fit to have any chance of silverware and Ireland fans will be hoping the enforced rest has been good for Conor Murray's neck and his overall form.

James Cronin (who will be surely avoiding the chemist today, once bitten etc etc), Niall Scannell and Stephen Archer are the front row and Snyman partners Billy Holland in the second row. Peter O'Mahony captains the team from blindside with Tommy O'Donnell at openside and CJ Stander at number eight. Former Saracens full back Matt Gallagher will also make his debut if he comes off the bench.

Snyman's presence in the pack will make Leinster even more aware of the loss of James Ryan who's recovering from shoulder surgery. But Leinster are lucky to be able to call on another former St. Michael's tyro in Ryan Baird. In that final game before lockdown Baird announced himself to the rugby world by scoring a hat-trick of tries including one fifty yard dash that showed off his athleticism. He's not quite as physically developed as Ryan but he's some prospect. He's partnered by Scott Fardy in the second row and Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter complete the front five. Jack Conan returns from injury to reclaim his place at number eight but interestingly Caelan Doris is chosen at blindside with Josh van der Flier at openside. With Dan Leavy soon approaching fitness, the competition in the back row will be crazy so every player chosen will be bursting to lay down a marker and two back rows are named on the bench in Max Deegan and Will Connors.

The backline is pretty much the first choice with beefcake Johnny Sexton captaining the team from out-half alongside Luke McGrath. Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw will be preparing for a physical challenge from the massive Munster centre pairing while the back three of Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney and James Lowe have all got good recent memories from Munster matches.

Let's face it, it's going to be a weird occasion. If we're honest the atmosphere at the Aviva for Leinster vs Munster is never as good as the RDS but it will still be better than total silence. But all these players would have played club or youths matches at some stage in front of minimal crowds and they'll know that once two rugby teams get stuck into one another, they'll get the focus and forget the missing crowd soon enough. With six months of inactivity the two teams will most likely come blasting out of the gates so expect a physical contest even if the rugby itself might be of limited quality.

Leinster will be hoping to extend their winning run to 20 games for the season, but Munster's greater need of points and their shiny new Springboks might just get them over the line.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Munster Rugby
Teams Jordan Larmour 15 Shane Daly
Dave Kearney 14 Andrew Conway
Garry Ringrose 13 Chris Farrell
Robbie Henshaw 12 Damian de Allende
James Lowe 11 Keith Earls
Johnny Sexton (C) 10 JJ Hanrahan
Luke McGrath 9 Conor Murray

Cian Healy 1 James Cronin
Ronan Kelleher 2 Niall Scannell
Andrew Porter 3 Stephen Archer
Ryan Baird
4 RG Snyman
Scott Fardy
5 Billy Holland
Caelan Doris 6 Peter O'Mahony (C)
Josh van der Flier 7 Tommy O'Donnell
Jack Conan 8 CJ Stander

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Rhys Marshall
Ed Byrne 17 Dave Kilcoyne
Michael Bent 18 John Ryan
Devin Toner 19 Jean Kleyn
Will Connors 20 Chris Cloete
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Craig Casey
Ross Byrne 22 Rory Scannell
Max Deegan 23 Matt Gallagher

Not Considered
due to Injury

James Ryan,
Fergus McFadden,
Dan Leavy,
Vakh Abdaladze,
Conor O'Brien,
Peter Dooley,
Adam Byrne

Joey Carbery,
Tadhg Beirne,
Mike Haley,
Dan Goggin,
Roman Salanoa
Officials Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU),
Assistant referees: George Clancy (IRFU), Joy Neville (IRFU),
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2020-08-21