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Munster, Leinster, Munster, Leinster…

Munster, Leinster, Munster, Leinster…

Adrian O’Farrell is back. The excitement of the Grand Slam proved too much for him and he needed a well-earned rest but now the Supporters Club’s very own feature writer returns to preview ‘that game on Saturday’. Can he hide his true blue instincts? Read on!

I think we’ve reached the time where the question can be legitimately asked. Is there a bigger rivalry in world rugby than Munster v Leinster?

New South Wales v Queensland? Bath v Gloucester? Don’t think so. Perhaps only international rivalries such as England v Wales or New Zealand v Australia or South Africa bear comparison.

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Where else are you going to see 12 Lions (well, now 11, what with Tomas O’Leary’s personal disaster) going head to head in the semi-final of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament as close neighbours with all manner of individual and cultural battles to be fought?

And the thing is that, while the professional era has over-exposed and therefore diluted rivalries such as New Zealand v South Africa, the professional era has elevated this rivalry in a big way.

Jim Glennon said recently that when he managed Leinster against Munster there might have been 820, not the 82,000 that will be present next Saturday.

Okay, it’s not exactly Celtic v Rangers in football or India v Pakistan in cricket, but there’s a fair bit of froth coming to the surface.

At the centre of it, as for much of the last six years, is one Felipe Contepomi, who has personified much of Leinster’s performance over that period with his curious mix of magic and mistakes.

His most recent outing in the Magners League down in Limerick cannot have filled the Leinster faithful with much confidence that the next outing is going to see the magician’s wand as opposed to the dunce’s hat.

In kicking practice ahead of the game, the Munster supporters baited him mercilessly and his reaction gave them just what they wanted.

The first of many things that have to go right for Leinster is that Contepomi maintains his ‘sang froid’ in the face of what is bound to be a concerted effort to knock him out of his stride.

As a professional athlete with advance warning, this is the least that should be expected of him.

Apart from that, they will need to find their attacking mojo, deliver a robust effort up front, achieve levels of accuracy that have not defined their season to date and the bloody-mindedness that has characterised their defence.

Which is a lot to get right, against a side that will apply pressure throughout and has shown an ability to play the game both ways.

It will be fascinating to see how Michael Cheika approaches the game from a game-plan perspective. Will he look to play it tight on the basis that his forwards have shown an ability to mix it more than his backs have threatened with ball in hand?

Or will he trust that the class operators in his three-quarters represent the best chance to actually win the match?

I would expect that Leinster will not come out swinging from the hip but play quite a conservative, error-free game in the first half and see where that brings them to.

He won’t want to offer targets for the Munster defence early on. If Leinster are to win it, it won’t be in the first half, but when the game opens up a little more later on.

Another major question is whether their sometimes suspect discipline lets them down.

From Munster’s perspective, the garden could hardly be rosier, even allowing for the acute disappointment of Tomas O’Leary’s injury.

From a playing perspective, however, the presence of Peter Stringer can hardly be termed a weakness. It being Munster, you can be sure that they will seek to turn O’Leary’s disappointment into a motivational positive.

The battle in the stands will be no less interesting as Leinster will surely have learned a lot from their chastening experience in 2006.

Expect the colours to be more evenly matched than back then but still having more red than blue.

Leinster appear to have got their act together in this department since the semi-final day in 2006 when the Leinster shop wasn’t even open on the day of the match!

In this morning’s paper, Brian O’Driscoll bemoaned the fact that some Leinster people pledge their rugby allegiance to Munster. This is indeed a poor reflection.

While the Irish captain suggests that ‘some people just want to be associated with winners and Munster have won a lot’, there is a little more to it than that.

I’ve always maintained that in Munster there is an unwritten contract between players and supporters that states ‘we won’t let you down’.

This works both ways and has served to ratchet up the performances both on and off the park.

Because the Munster supporters could see, even in defeat, that there was no stinting in effort amongst the players, they felt this was a team they could believe in and ever greater support was forthcoming. Which led to ever greater effort from the players …

Unfortunately, the same principle has not always applied further to the north and east. Leinster supporters have been more fickle, but that is in part because when they have turned up in numbers, there has been a feeling that the players haven’t been as willing to die for the cause as they might.

Days such as Perpignan, Leicester and yes, Munster in 2006, have led to the Munster-style ‘contract’ being slow to come about.

If I was a financial investor, Leinster is the one franchise in Europe into which I would be looking to put my money.

With no professional sporting competition and a capital city of over 1 million people, it retains massive growth potential even allowing for the huge growth that has already taken place.

Days like this Saturday, however, are key. To be honest, it’s not even necessary that they win on the day.

The Leinster public understand that Munster are a team apart from any other in the northern Hemisphere at the moment.

What must happen, from a Leinster perspective, is that bodies are laid on the line for the whole 80 minutes.

If they get that much, Leinster supporters in the future will not just turn up in ever-increasing numbers, but with more commitment and emotional buy-in to their team. And a contract can be drawn up.