Magners League leaders Leinster travel south to fortress Thomond as they bid to win at the Limerick venue for the first time since 1995. Munster, without injured captain Paul O’Connell, are also right in the hunt for a play-off spot, and a home win here could prove crucial as they look to win back-to-back league titles.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, April 2
MUNSTER (2nd) v LEINSTER (1st), Thomond Park, 8.05pm (live Setanta Sports 1)
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Team News: Friday will see Munster hooker Jerry Flannery return to competitive action for the first time since he picked up a six-week suspension against France in the RBS 6 Nations.
Flannery is one of four Ireland internationals making a return to Magners League action for this top of the table clash with Leinster, Tomas O’Leary, John Hayes and David Wallace being the others.
However, two players named in Munster’s extended squad on Tuesday – team captain Paul O’Connell and Keith Earls – have both been forced to withdraw due to groin strains.
In relation to their availability for the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Northampton in a week’s time, team manager Shaun Payne said that neither player has been ruled out at this stage.
18 of Friday’s matchday 22 were involved when the sides last met at the RDS back in October.
From that game, which Leinster won on a 30-0 scoreline, Denis Leamy and Denis Hurley are now joined on the injury list by O’Connell and Earls.
In the absence of O’Connell, Munster will be captained by out-half Ronan O’Gara who is set to win a 180th cap for his home province.
Meanwhile, Gordon D’Arcy, a try scorer against Munster last October, will start at inside centre and partner Fergus McFadden in the only change in the back-line to the Leinster side that defeated Connacht last weekend.
Rob Kearney continues at full-back with Girvan Dempsey and Isa Nacewa on the wings, while Eoin Reddan will once again combine with Jonathan Sexton at half-back. Injury rules out both Brian O’Driscoll and Shane Horgan.
Jamie Heaslip, back from RBS 6 Nations duty, has also been named in the starting line-up for Friday’s interprovincial derby.
The number 8 will slot into a back-row which includes fellow Ireland international Shane Jennings and Scotland’s Nathan Hines.
Leo Cullen will captain the current Magners League leaders and starts in the second row alongside Devin Toner, while Cian Healy joins fellow Ireland internationals Bernard Jackman and Malcolm O’Kelly on the bench.
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Jean de Villiers, Ian Dowling; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, David Wallace.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Tony Buckley, Nick Williams, James Coughlan, Peter Stringer, Tom Gleeson, Scott Deasy.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Girvan Dempsey, Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Stan Wright, John Fogarty, CJ van der Linde, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Nathan Hines, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Bernard Jackman, Cian Healy, Malcolm O’Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Paul O’Donohoe, Shaun Berne, Eoin O’Malley.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Colin Stanley, Richard Kerr (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 4/11; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Leo Cullen (Leinster) – “Training has been a bit disjointed over the last while and it was the same last week with the return of the international players from Ireland camp, so it was hardly ideal preparation from our point of view.
“When you come up against a team like Connacht who are together for longer periods without too much disruption to their personnel, you have to adapt fast and to their credit they looked more cohesive and were unlucky not to come away with something more from the game.
“We had opportunities to win the game, but we got out of jail and the players know that we will have to improve this week because we’re coming up against an in-form Munster team who have been steadily improving in recent months.
“Their forwards make up the majority of the Ireland pack and they have real experience and class in their half-back combinations.
“When you supplement that to some quality overseas players in the likes of (Doug) Howlett, (Lifeimi) Mafi and (Paul) Warwick, it makes for a potent combination alongside some exciting outside backs.
“Of course it’s a league game with points up for grabs, and from a club perspective we want to secure a home semi-final, but derby games have more spice and some of us have been at it for ten years or more, so you have a fair indication of what to expect come kick-off!
“Thomond Park is one of the great grounds in world rugby. The biggest thing that hits you when you take to the field is the noise and the supporters, it seems, are right on top of you.
“It’s an intimidating place to play, but these are the venues you want to play and challenge yourself in.”
Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster) – “It’s a massive challenge, It always is when we play them. Local derbies have that extra edge, this one has that and a little more.
“It’s Cork and Kerry or Manchester United and Manchester City. It’s the game you want to win. And they’re the same.
“It doesn’t matter what competition it is, the Magners League or Heineken Cyp, this sort of game is right up there with internationals in terms of physicality and intensity.
“Mistakes are normally punished to the full, there’ll be very little or no room for error.
“But this is the type of game that running around in the freezing wind, sleet and rain that we had in Clanwilliam on Tuesday are all about.
“It’s a blow (to be missing Paul and Keith), no doubt about it. But they’re missing Drico (Brian O’Driscoll) and a few more we hear.
“We’d have full confidence in the side selected. We know what we have to do. This about who is on the pitch, not who isn’t.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 47; Tries: Jean de Villiers 5; Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 105; Tries: Shane Horgan, Isa Nacewa, Girvan Dempsey, Fergus McFadden, Rob Kearney 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, April 4, 2009 – Munster 22 Leinster 5, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 3, 2009 – Leinster 30 Munster 0, the RDS
– Munster’s only defeat in their last six encounters was a 31-22 loss to the Newport Gwent Dragons in the Magners League on March 6
– Munster are the best team at home in the Magners League this season, with 31 points from a possible 35 at their Cork and Limerick bases
– Leinster have not lost a game in any competition since their 30-14 reversal at the Newport Gwent Dragons on December 6
– The Leinstermen have lost just one of the four previous Magners League matches they have played on Good Friday
– Things could not be more even in the 14 previous league meetings between the two provinces, both having secured seven wins apiece. Notably, Leinster have not won at Thomond Park since 1995