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Munster and Leinster prepare to renew rivalry at Thomond Park

Luke Baker 24 Dec 2016
Munster v Leinster

Two old rivals meet in a post-Christmas cracker as Munster welcome Leinster to Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day.

The inter-provincial derby sees two teams in excellent form, with both sides having lost just once in the last eight rounds of Guinness PRO12 action.

Their European performances over the past fortnight also bode well as Leinster obliterated Northampton Saints 60-13 at the Aviva Stadium and 37-10 at Franklin’s Gardens, while Munster’s incredible 38-0 demolition of Leicester Tigers was followed by a narrow 18-16 loss in the reverse fixture last weekend.

What’s at stake?

Bragging rights are always at stake when these Irish warriors collide, but a place atop the Guinness PRO12 table is also up for grabs.

The duo are currently locked on 37 points and occupy the top two spots – Munster marginally ahead due to their superior points difference.

The only defeat for Rassie Erasmus’ troops in the last eight rounds of domestic action was against Leinster, at the Aviva Stadium on October 8, but Thomond Park is something of a fortress for the Munstermen.

They have won their last ten matches at the venue in all competitions but the last team to beat them? Leinster of course – 12 months ago.

Team News (Munster)

Rassie Erasmus has made three changes to the Munster XV that suffered a two-point defeat to Leicester in the European Rugby Champions Cup last time out.

Two of those alterations are in the pack as James Cronin replaces Dave Kilcoyne at looshead prop – joining John Ryan and last week’s try-scorer Niall Scannell in the front row.

Lock Jean Kleyn comes in for Billy Holland alongside Donnacha Ryan in the boiler room, while the lone change in the backline sees Ronan O’Mahony starting on the wing for Keith Earls.

Francis Saili is in line to make his first appearance of the campaign from the bench – the New Zealand centre having recovered from shoulder surgery at the end of last season.

Team News (Leinster)

While Munster have merely tweaked their line-up from their latest European adventure, Leo Cullen has completely re-jigged his squad by making a total of ten changes from thrashing of Northampton.

Only Tadhg Furlong has been retained in the pack and he is joined by Cian Healy and James Tracy in an all-Irish international front row.

Ross Molony and Mike McCarthy are the all-new second row, while flankers Rhys Ruddock and Dan Leavy and No.8 Jack Conan complete the forwards.

In the backs, Maori All Black Jamison Gibson-Park comes in at scrum-half, Rory O’Loughlin joins Robbie Henshaw in the centres and Barry Daly replaces Adam Byrne on the wing.

Talking points

Munster against Leinster is always an entertaining affair and a try double from Isa Nacewa, along with Jamison Gibson-Park’s effort, was enough for the Dublin-based outfit to prevail 25-14 when the sides last met in October.

That continued Leinster’s recent dominance of the fixture, as they have triumphed in the last three matches between the teams.

Munster will be keen to end that streak on St Stephen’s Day and can take solace in the fact that their last victory over their rivals was a 28-13 victory at Thomond Park exactly two years ago.

Key Battle: Rory Scannell v Robbie Henshaw

When it comes to game-breaking inside centres, Rory Scannell and Robbie Henshaw are two of the best around – so their ability to limit each other’s impact may be as important as their own attacking intent.

There is an expectation that 23-year-old Henshaw will man one of Ireland’s centre spots for the next decade, while Scannell, also 23, got his first international call when added to the squad for the clash with Australia last month.

The Munster man is still awaiting his international debut but with the 2017 RBS 6 Nations just around the corner, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will be watching this match-up intently.

Key Stat

Leinster have played two matches in 2016 away to fellow Irish provinces, losing both and failing to score a try – at Connacht in March and at Ulster in April.

Lions Contenders

Both sides are littered with internationals who will be hoping to continue putting themselves in Lions contention over the coming months.

For Leinster, Robbie Henshaw has only gone from strength to strength since his summer move from Connacht and the 24-cap Ireland international’s versatility – he is equally comfortable in the centres or at full-back – could convince coach Warren Gatland to put him on the plane to New Zealand.

Gatland has plenty of options in the front-row but 2013 Lion Cian Healy and up-and-comer Tadhg Furlong should come into contention at prop.

Munster’s Conor Murray is perhaps the current favourite to start at scrum-half for the Lions but with the likes of Ben Youngs, Rhys Webb and Greig Laidlaw hot on his heels, he must maintain his good form.

Another 2013 Lion, Simon Zebo, could catapult himself into contention with strong performances while at least one of the Munstermen’s all-Irish back row of Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander will surely ultimately be on the plane.

Munster top points scorer Tyler Bleyendaal – 57

Top try scorer – Ronan O’Mahony/Andrew Conway – 4

Leinster top points scorer – Isa Nacewa – 62

Top try scorer – Adam Byrne – 5

At Thomond Park, 5.30pm
Live on TG4 and Sky Sports
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 143rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Stuart Gaffikin (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Tim Lowry (IRFU)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU)

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 30, Munster won 12 Leinster won 18.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final

Historical Lineup Pre Opta (sfms data) - Preview - v2

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Clinical Munster pull clear at Guinness PRO12 summit

Jack Miller 26 Dec 2016

With a place atop the Guinness PRO12 standings up for grabs, it was Munster who claimed the spoils with a battling interpro derby 29-17 triumph over Leinster.

Ronan O’Mahony’s try with the clock in the red at the end of the first half was perhaps the big turning point of the match, giving the hosts a 14-10 lead at the interval after Simon Zebo had cancelled out Zane Kirchner’s opening score.

And two more Munster tries before the hour mark from Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander were decisive, meaning Richardt Strauss’ late effort was no more than a consolation, and ending a run of three consecutive losses to their fierce Irish rivals.

Despite a fast and furious start to the game at a Thomond Park that was rocking with noise, there was no score for the opening ten minutes with both sides demonstrating big carries and sturdy defence.

Tadhg Furlong’s run took Leinster into Munster territory again in the 13th minute, and after a penalty allowed Ross Byrne to kick to the corner, the visitors opened the scoring.

The boys in blue controlled the scrum expertly before Jack Conan’s carry from the base allowed Kirchner to burst through off Jamison Gibson-Park’s pass with 18 minutes played.

Isa Nacewa added the extras, but Munster then began immediately build the pressure in Leinster territory, and patient play saw them go through the phases to get themselves level.

Conor Murray eventually fed Zebo on the right touchline after Tyler Bleyendaal was denied, and the Ireland international twisted and dived over under pressure from Barry Daly and Conan.

The try was confirmed via the TMO, and while Bleyendaal made it 7-7 with the conversion, Nacewa was on target again from the tee on 25 minutes to put Leinster back ahead after a neck roll on Furlong.

The game then turned slightly scrappier, but once again Munster began to look the more threatening and Leinster were forced to doggedly defend.

But while they came within a whisker of surviving until half-time, it was not to be as the hosts’ patience once again paid dividends.

Another move where Munster went through the phases – 21 of them in total – ended in O’Mahony diving over in the right corner with the clock in the red, after Bleyendaal’s pass skipped out Darren Sweetnam.

Bleyendaal’s conversion from exactly the same spot as his first made it 14-10 at the break, but it was a different story in the second half where Munster imposed themselves on their guests.

After several minutes camped deep inside Leinster territory, with penalty advantage Murray’s cross-field kick allowed O’Donnell to beat Daly in the air and get the ball down over the whitewash after a slight juggle in the 50th minute.

But it was just six minutes later when Rassie Erasmus’ side struck what proved to be the killer blow from a lineout and subsequent five-metre driving maul, with the pack forcing Stander over for a bonus-point score.

Bleyendaal’s first miss of the afternoon meant the score stayed at 26-10, and even though Zebo then saw his drop-goal attempt miss the target on the hour mark, Munster had the playing advantage and the fly-half landed a three-pointer.

And while it was Munster who were hammering away at the line again in the next ten minutes, Leinster were not down and out and Strauss gave them some hope of at least a bonus point when he broke off a lineout maul with Nacewa adding the extras.

But there was not enough time for Leo Cullen’s men to find another try, and the 29-17 scoreline meant Munster pulled out a five-point lead at the Guinness PRO12 summit.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final

Match Page 2017-18 - Summary WP:137

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Performance WP:138