They thrilled the nation by winning the Grand Slam, but Saturday will see many of Ireland’s all-conquering heroes go head-to-head at Thomond Park in what could prove to be the Magners League title decider. It is the battle of the top two as table-toppers and reigning European champions Munster entertain their arch rivals Leinster, the defending league champions.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, April 4
MUNSTER (1st) v LEINSTER (2nd), Thomond Park, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports 1/Setanta Sports 2)
* There will be live coverage of the match on RTE Radio 1 LW 252, DAB Radio 1 Extra and Online, with commentary from Gary Moran and former Munster and Ireland back John Kelly
Team News: Ian Dowling will return to the Munster team for the first time since January’s game against Montauban, when he lines out in Saturday’s Magners League clash with Leinster at Thomond Park Stadium.
After the Montauban outing, Dowling subsequently injured a hamstring in training and according to Munster fitness staff makes it back into the side thanks to his ‘superb application in his rehab of the injury.’
He comes back into the side at the immediate expense of Barry Murphy, who played in the game against Glasgow but now slips to the bench.
Paul Warwick has been named at full-back with Denis Hurley listed among the replacements.
Up front there is a complete change in the front five with the return of the Grand Slam-winning forwards but in the back row, Alan Quinlan and Niall Ronan, both superb in the win over Glasgow, retain their places with David Wallace anchoring the scrum in the absence of the injured Denis Leamy (shoulder).
Meanwhile, the Leinster team to face Munster in Saturday night’s Magners League derby has been named.
Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip return to Leinster’s starting line-up for the interprovincial derby, with Isa Nacewa switching to the right wing and Shane Horgan partnering Gordon D’Arcy at centre.
Rocky Elsom starts at wing forward in a back row which features Heaslip and Shane Jennings.
The replacements bench will be confirmed closer to kick-off.
Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald, two of Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning heroes, are absent from the matchday squad. O’Driscoll (neck) and Fitzgerald (shoulder) are nursing knocks ahead of next week’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins.
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, David Wallace.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, Peter Stringer, Barry Murphy, Denis Hurley.
LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Isa Nacewa, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan, Rob Kearney; Felipe Contepomi, Chris Whitaker; Cian Healy, Bernard Jackman, Stan Wright, Leo Cullen (capt), Malcolm O’Kelly, Rocky Elsom, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements (from): John Fogarty, Ollie Le Roux, Ronan McCormack, Trevor Hogan, Cameron Jowitt, Sean O’Brien, Chris Keane, Jonathan Sexton, Simon Keogh.
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Assistant Referees: Simon McDowell, Colin Stanley (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/3; Draw: 28/1; Leinster to win: 9/4
Say What: Alan Quinlan (Munster) – “You always look forward to these type of games, against the other Irish sides, local derbies if you like that have a unique atmosphere and this one probably caps ’em all.
“I know they (Leinster) will be looking to make up for us beating them (18-0) earlier (in the season) but even still, games against them are as tough as anything we play during the season.
“I think it’s going to be a great occasion. I hope the weather stays the way it is and if it does I think people are going to see a cracking game of rugby played by two good sides.”
Rob Kearney (Leinster) – “It hasn’t been difficult (to refocus after the Grand Slam). In fact, if anything the lads who have come back into the Leinster camp have done so in a really positive frame of mind.
“The way I look at it is that at the start of the season we set out to win three trophies. We have managed to win one, and there are two left to be won.
“We’re also conscious that we lost heavily against Munster last time out. We played poorly and embarrassed ourselves really.
“I have played at Thomond Park before and it’s a fantastic venue. As a sportsman, you want to play on the highest stages and we know that Munster will be formidable opponents. But we will go there in a positive frame of mind.
“There’ll be a bit of slagging between the two camps because we know each other so well and there’s great camaraderie between the players at international level, but when it comes to the game it will be fiercely competitive, as it always is.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Munster: Paul Warwick 73; Leinster: Felipe Contepomi 150; Tries: Munster: Keith Earls, Doug Howlett 6 each; Leinster: Luke Fitzgerald 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, December 31, 2005 – Leinster 35 Munster 23, The RDS
Friday, October 6, 2006 – Leinster 27 Munster 20, Lansdowne Road
Wednesday, December 27, 2006 – Munster 25 Leinster 11, Thomond Park
Friday, November 30, 2007 – Munster 3 Leinster 10, Musgrave Park
Saturday, April 12, 2008 – Leinster 21 Munster 12, The RDS
Sunday, September 28, 2008 – Leinster 0 Munster 18, The RDS
– Table-topping Munster have won their last six games in all competitions since losing 37-11 to Ulster at Thomond Park on January 3
– The Munstermen have won just one of their previous six matches against fellow Irish provinces – an 18-0 success against Leinster at the RDS on September 28 last
– Leinster have won their last seven games in the Magners League since Glasgow beat them (15-12) at Firhill on October 24 last
– Munster are gunning for their first ‘season’s double’ over Leinster in the league since the 2003/04 campaign
– Leinster won 10-3 at Musgrave Park on their last visit to Munster in November 2007, but they have not won in Limerick since winning 24-18 at Dooradoyle, the home of Garryowen, in the Interprovincial Championship on August 21, 1998