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Heineken Cup Semi-Final Preview: Munster v Leinster

Heineken Cup Semi-Final Preview: Munster v Leinster

Here it is, one of the biggest occasions in the Irish sporting history in one of the most iconic stadiums in Europe, Croke Park. In the blue corner, we have last season’s Magners League champions and a team determined to make up for their 2006 semi-final defeat to the same opposition. In the red corner, stand the Heineken Cup holders, the newly-crowned Magners League champions and a side playing at the height of their powers. Kick-off cannot come quick enough!


MUNSTER v LEINSTER, Croke Park, 5.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/RTE Radio 1)

Team News: Peter Stringer will win his 170th Munster cap when he steps out at Croke Park for Saturday’s semi-final clash with Leinster in the one change from the side that started against the Ospreys in the quarter-final.

The ankle injury to Tomas O’Leary that necessitated that reshuffle also means there is one change on the bench with the experienced Mike Prendergast providing the back-up to Stringer.

Munster trained on Thursday in brilliant sunshine at Musgrave Park and set out for Dublin today from Cork’s Kent Station, picking up the Limerick contingent at Limerick Junction and arriving in Heuston Station in the early afternoon.

Paul O’Connell and his players had their Captain’s Run training session at Croke Park, where Leinster trained on Thursday.

Giving his thoughts on the rivalry between the two provinces, O’Connell said: “When I was growing up, the guy I hated to lose to was my brother. That is the way it is now.

“These guys (the Leinster players), after what we achieved together with Ireland, will be friends for life.

“But those are the guys you hate to lose to most and I am sure Leinster will be saying the same thing. It’s because we know each other so well and are friends that this is such a big rivalry.”

This will be the first time O’Connell will don the red of Munster at Croke Park and he is really looking forward to the occasion.

“The atmosphere at Lansdowne Road for the 2006 semi-final meeting of Munster and Leinster was phenomenal. This weekend will be no different.

“There might be a bit of a GAA element to the atmosphere as well. That will add to it.

“It will be fabulous to play a provincial game in Croke Park. It is something neither team has done before, and definitely the atmosphere will be a little bit different to an international.”

Meanwhile, the Leinster team to face Munster in Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final showdown has been named.

Leo Cullen is one of two changes from the side that started last weekend’s 36-13 victory over Glasgow and the Leinster skipper will partner his Ireland colleague Malcolm O’Kelly in the province’s second row.

Shane Horgan, a try scorer against Glasgow, will start on the right wing with Isa Nacewa moving to full-back in place of Girvan Dempsey who suffered a knock in training during the week which limited his training.

But Dempsey has recovered sufficiently to take his place on the bench. Simon Keogh has also recovered from injury and is named amongst the replacements.

Brian O’Driscoll lines up at centre alongside Gordon D’Arcy, while Australian international Rocky Elsom starts in the back row alongside Ireland duo Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip.

Looking forward to locking horns with Munster for the second time in the space of a month, Leinster coach Michael Cheika said: “I think that because of the prize that’s at stake, a berth in the Heineken Cup final that makes the game so big.

“As defending champions Munster probably see it as their place to be. And as I said before, we’ve had to fight really hard to make it here.

“They have been pretty untouchable so far this year, haven’t they? They have been quite commanding in the pool stages and have won the league now.

“And we understand that not many people expect us to beat them. But it’s all about us believing in ourselves I suppose, and our supporters, and making sure we do our best on the day.

“We’re still pushing in the league to get a top-three finish there, which is where we have finished for the last three years.

“But there’s no connection. This is about plotting the tournament out to win the semi-final and to get to the final.”

MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.

Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Niall Ronan, Mike Prendergast, Barry Murphy, Denis Hurley.

LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Felipe Contepomi, Chris Whitaker; Cian Healy, Bernard Jackman, Stan Wright, Leo Cullen (capt), Malcolm O’Kelly, Rocky Elsom, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: John Fogarty, Ronan McCormack, Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien, Simon Keogh, Jonathan Sexton, Girvan Dempsey.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Whitehouse, Hugh Watkins (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 3/10; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 5/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster) – “We’ve been put in a great position by the likes of Tomas (O’Leary) and Rua (Tipoki). There’s a lot of emotion there, you know how lucky you are to be involved.

“This team wants to achieve. We’re all conscious that we’re at a good age. It’s a case of sparing nothing, but you are duty-bound to make your time in the shirt as special as it can possibly be.

“If you’re lucky enough to wear the shirt you are entrusted to make sure that when you come to pass it on you have set the highest standard possible.

“This match is about more than bragging rights. Normally it’s just the country that is watching a game like this. This one’s a little bit bigger. Everyone in Europe will be watching.”

Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster) – “I’ve played in front of 82,000 very partisan Irish supporters in an international but I can’t imagine what it will be like playing in a club side.

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“It was the same with 2006; it seemed as though it was a Munster home game and I’d expect them to have the lion’s share of support there but I don’t think it will affect us this time.

“We will be ready for it and it will just be an incredible sporting occasion.

“I believe it is going to be the biggest club game in world history so it will be nice to be part of. I know I won’t be as stressed as I was for the semi-final in 2006 – that was probably the most nervous I have been for any game, it was horrible and I didn’t enjoy it.

“I’m way more relaxed this week and treating it as another big, tough European game against undoubtedly the best team in Europe at the moment.” 

Heineken Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: Munster: Tries: David Wallace, Paul Warwick 3 each; Points: Ronan O’Gara 80; Leinster: Tries: Brian O’Driscoll 4; Points: Felipe Contepomi 61

Season’s Record – Munster – (Magners League): Won 20-15 away to Edinburgh; Won 50-6 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 28-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Won 18-0 away to Leinster; Won 25-17 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-17 at home to Montauban; Won 24-16 away to Sale Sharks; (Magners League): Lost 22-6 away to Ulster; (Friendly): Lost 18-16 at home to New Zealand; (Magners League): Won 18-16 away to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Lost 25-19 away to Clermont Auvergne; Won 23-13 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Magners League): Lost 12-6 away to Connacht; Lost 37-11 at home to Ulster; Won 25-21 away to Ospreys; (Heineken Cup): Won 37-14 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 39-13 away to Montauban; (Magners League): Won 28-14 at home to Edinburgh; Won 20-9 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 26-13 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 22-5 at home to Leinster; (Heineken Cup quarter-final): Won 43-9 at home to the Ospreys; (Magners League): Won 25-10 at home to Connacht; Won 29-10 at home to the Scarlets

Leinster – (Magners League): Drew 16-16 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 52-6 at home to Edinburgh; Won 19-13 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 18-0 at home to Munster; Lost 19-18 away to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 27-16 away to Edinburgh; Won 41-11 at home to London Wasps; (Magners League): Lost 15-21 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 29-13 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Heineken Cup): Won 33-3 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 18-15 away to Castres Olympique; (Magners League): Won 21-13 away to Ulster; Won 26-18 at home to Connacht; Won 21-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Lost 19-12 away to London Wasps; Won 12-3 at home to Edinburgh; (Magners League): Won 31-17 away to the Scarlets; Won 13-8 away to the Ospreys; Won 32-6 at home to Ulster; Lost 22-5 away to Munster; (Heineken Cup quarter-final): Won 6-5 away to Harlequins; (Magners League): Lost 27-16 away to Edinburgh; Won 36-13 at home to Glasgow Warriors

Previous European Meetings: 1

Sunday, April 23, 2006 – Heineken Cup semi-final – Leinster 6 Munster 30, Lansdowne Road

Heineken Cup Records:

Munster –
2007/08: Champions
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Champions
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Runners-up
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
1999/00: Runners-up
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool D

Leinster –
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1995/96: Reached the semi-finals

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Munster to win by less than 7 points