Leinster and Munster will meet for the fourth time in little over a year when they battle it out in Saturday’s Magners League seemi-final at the RDS. The winners will progress through to face the Ospreys in the inaugural grand final on May 29.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: SEMI-FINAL: Saturday, May 15
LEINSTER v MUNSTER, the RDS, 8pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/S4C)
Team News: Jonathan Sexton, who has been out with a recent jaw injury, will return to the Leinster starting line-up for Saturday’s sell-out derby encounter.
The St. Mary’s College clubman partners Eoin Reddan at half-back in a back-line which includes six Ireland internationals.
Sexton’s inclusion at number 10 sees Isa Nacewa, who kicked 17 points in the 37-28 victory over Edinburgh last weekend, move to the left wing and Girvan Dempsey drops to the replacements bench.
Nacewa forms a back three with Shane Horgan and Rob Kearney who, along with Cian Healy and Stephen Keogh, were try-scorers in the bonus point victory over the Scottish side.
Flanker Shane Jennings has recovered from an ankle injury to lead his native province for the fifth time this season in the absence of the injured Leo Cullen (shoulder). Jennings will resume his back row partnership with Kevin McLaughlin and Jamie Heaslip, the recently named IRUPA Supporters’ Player of the Year.
Cullen’s place in the second row has been filled by Malcolm O’Kelly who will make his 187th Leinster appearance ahead of his retirement at the end of the season.
Leinster coach Michael Cheika will finalise the make-up of the bench closer to kick-off.
Looking forward to his final provincial derby before his move to Stade Francais, Cheika said: “It has been an enlightening experience (coaching against Munster).
“It’s everything that’s good about the game when these big derby matches (come around), even the losses which evoke the same emotions because you want to win the games so much.
“I hope that I run into them again sometime soon when I leave because they’re a quality outfit and you know you have to battle against them up to the very end.
“We all love to talk about having great victories or winning tournaments, but at the end of the day when Saturday comes along, you want to have a good go and no team gives you a better game than them.
“I think that the key issue is to take every encounter on its own basis. Every ruck and every ball is going to be contested very fiercely.
“If you saw the way they fought against Cardiff (last Sunday), they fought for everything on the ground. It wasn’t pretty but they really showed their character in fighting for every ball.
“If there’s one thing we are, it’s well aware of the fact that we’re going to have to be at our most physical if we want to win the game.”
Meanwhile, Munster have made seven changes in personnel for the semi-final, with Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes and Mick O’Driscoll returning to the matchday squad.
A hamstring injury has kept Howlett out of action since the Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Northampton Saints, while Earls (groin), Flannery (calf) and O’Driscoll (ankle) missed last weekend’s trip to Cardiff through injury.
Hayes was given a well earned rest last time out as Munster qualified for the Magners League semi-finals thanks to the losing bonus point they picked up against the Blues.
Earls’ return to the Munster team sees Lifeimi Mafi switch to the left wing, while Denis Hurley makes way for Howlett on the right.
Tom Gleeson loses out in a rejigged back-line which also includes switches at full-back and scrum half – Paul Warwick starts in place of Scott Deasy and Peter Stringer makes way for Tomas O’Leary.
In the front row Damien Varley continues at hooker as Flannery returns from injury to provide back-up on the bench, and Hayes takes over from Tony Buckley at tighthead prop.
The fit-again O’Driscoll joins Donncha O’Callaghan in the second row, and Alan Quinlan returns at blindside flanker, alongside Niall Ronan and Nick Williams, who takes over from David Wallace at number 8, in a powerful back row.
Wallace and James Coughlan will be hoping to make an impact as replacements as Munster look to end a three-match losing streak against Leinster and progress to the inaugural Magners League grand final.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s game, Munster coach Tony McGahan said: “It’s been an okay season, but the real goal for us is to finish with silverware and we have to give ourselves every opportunity with a tough 80 minutes on Saturday.
“We haven’t shied away from the fact that we have been inconsistent this particular season. We’ve had some excellent days out but, at the same time, we’ve certainly let ourselves down with inconsistency right across the park.
“It hasn’t been limited to one or two areas – it’s been set piece perspective, it’s been attack, it’s been defence, it’s been the breakdown, it’s been goal-kicking, it’s been field-kicking. We haven’t really been able to gel everything together.
“We’ve reached a semi-final in the Heineken Cup, we’re into a semi-final in the Magners League, and we’ve got a final with the ‘A’ team at the weekend. I think in last Sunday’s game in Cardiff – even though we didn’t win – we had done enough to get the result and that has certainly given the squad a big boost.”
He added: “Heading into a semi-final in Dublin, there is plenty to be pleased about and we are certainly looking forward to that aspect of it.
“I think the kicking game is going to be a huge part of the weekend.. Leinster certainly demonstrated over the last number of years and especially so in this particular year, their physicality in their carrying and the physicality in their defence. So that’s going to be another key area for us.”
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, John Fogarty, Stan Wright, Nathan Hines, Malcolm O’Kelly, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings (capt), Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements (from): Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, CJ van der Linde, Trevor Hogan, Rhys Ruddock, Stephen Keogh, Paul O’Donohoe, Shaun Berne, Fergus McFadden, Girvan Dempsey.
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Jean de Villiers, Lifeimi Mafi; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Damien Varley, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Jerry Flannery, Dave Ryan, James Coughlan, David Wallace, Peter Stringer, Denis Hurley, Scott Deasy.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: James Jones, Nigel Whitehouse (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Hugh Watkins (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/2; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 13/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Eoin Reddan (Leinster) – “At this stage of the season you’re fighting to get a home semi-final and you know if you get it, it’ll be a massive game.
“You’re not in a position to worry about who you’re playing against. The fact it is Munster adds to it from a rivalry point of view but the game will be massive anyway.
“Obviously everyone knows each other and that adds to it, but it’s a big game either way.”
“It’s two massive games (now to win the league) and as a player it’s two more knockout games that might help you in the future if you get to another Heineken Cup quarter-final, semi-final or another Magners League game, or even a World Cup quarter-final or semi-final.
“It’s great for players to be exposed to this. I’m accentuating the positives of it.
“Knowing what we’re aiming for, I think it’s just looking up and on to the end of the year. I don’t feel tired or that it’s been a long season because everything we’ve been playing for has come in these three or four weeks, maybe starting two weeks ago, and going on to the end of the season.
“I think it’s great. People keep asking about the long season but it doesn’t come into it for me, you’re always looking forward.
“There might be a few guys injured and that happens but if you take any window in the season, there’s guys injured.
“It’s an exciting end to the season, it’s massive. It’s in the back of your head when you’re playing away at Cardiff in the middle of the Six Nations, you know what you’re playing for and I think now we’re here we need to push on and really produce the goods on Saturday.”
Ronan O’Gara (Munster) – “We’re looking forward to the game on Saturday night, it should be a tough game but we’re well prepared.
“(Losing to) Biarritz Olympique was a huge disappointment of course and the team was pretty deflated. Afterwards the players showed great courage to bounce back so quickly for the Cardiff game last weekend.
“We did what we had to do there in terms of grinding out a result that would see us through to the semi-finals. Cardiff looked to get four tries to get the five points but they came nowhere near that.
“It was disappointing to lose the game by a point in the dying moments, but it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture, which was to make it to the semi-final.
“Home advantage is a good thing (for Leinster) but I don’t think that’ll be a problem for us on Saturday. The most important thing is that we do our utmost to win and keep our concentration for the whole 80 minutes.
“We’ve got some big names on the bench – Jerry Flannery and (David) Wallace are both out. It just goes to show that no matter how big a name the player is, nothing can be taken for granted.
“If the coach feels a player isn’t doing the business, he’ll be left out of the starting fifteen. People have really sat up and taken notice of that this week.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 113; Tries: Rob Kearney 4; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 85; Tries: Jean de Villiers 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, April 2, 2010 – Munster 15 Leinster 16, Thomond Park
– Leinster, the 2007/8 Magners League champions, finished up the regular season as number one seeds with a perfect played nine, won nine record at the RDS in the Magners League
– Munster were, in fact, the last team to beat Leinster at the Dublin venue in the Magners League, doing so on September 28, 2008
– Leinster have won just one of their last five semi-final appearances in all competitions
– Munster are bidding to become the first ever side to retain the Magners League crown, although they have lost their last three matches in all competitions. The Munstermen’s only victory on the road in their last seven Magners League matches was an 18-12 success at Connacht last month
– Munster have lost their last two semi-final encounters, while Leinster have won their last three matches against Munster in all competitions. But they have not won four in-a-row against their arch rivals since 1983 to 1986
– The two sides have met in three previous semi-finals, with Munster winning 23-17 at Lansdowne Road in the 2004/05 Celtic Cup, Munster again winning 30-6 at Lansdowne Road in the 2005/06 Heineken Cup and Leinster gaining a 25-6 victory at Croke Park in last season’s Heineken Cup