Ulster travel to Thomond Park on Friday to take on Munster in what will be the first interprovincial clash of the season. The GUINNESS PRO12 derby kicks off at 6pm.
Darren Cave, fresh from Rugby World Cup duty, will make his first start of the GUINNESS PRO12 season after coming off the bench in last weekend’s 24-17 win over Cardiff Blues.
For the Ireland centre, the games do not come much bigger. “The interpros are up there with the big European games, especially now that Connacht are proving themselves to be a real force in the league. There’s great rivalry between the players and the fans and they are games that we really look forward to,” said Cave.
“Last season we drew at home (with Munster) and had a one-point loss away, so they were really tight games and we’re expecting Friday to be no different.”
While Cave recognises the importance of these fixtures for players with international aspirations, he is keen to stress that it is not the priority.
“There’s no doubt that they are great opportunities to show what you can do against players that you’re matching up against internationally. The Irish coaches are going to keep a special eye on these games, but at the end of the day there are league points up for grabs and that’s what our focus will be on.”
Having trained with many of the Munster squad in Ireland camps over the past three months, the 28-year-old is wary of the threat they can pose.
“They have a few of their internationals back, like (Simon) Zebo in the back-three and Donnacha Ryan, who I’m sure will come off the bench at some point. We know they are going to bring great intensity to their game, but sometimes it’s still hard to stop. That’s a massive strength of their team.”
He added: “We were talking the other day about how few set pieces Munster have had in their own half, and particularly in their own 22, so far this season. Their territory game is very good – Ian Keatley is a class act at number 10 and he puts them into the right positions on the pitch. He’s also a quality goal-kicker.”
But Cave is equally aware of the strengths of his own team-mates and has backed Ulster to get the win, stating: “I’ve won down there a couple of times before and I see no real reason why, if we tidy up a few things, we can’t test them and come out on the right side of the result.”
A mere two points currently separates Munster and Ulster in the PRO12 standings, with the provinces lying third and fifth respectively.
One man who featured in both of the most recent clashes between the provinces – and kicked a combined total of 29 points from the boot – was Ian Keatley. The Munster play-maker is expecting quite a showdown in Limerick.
“Derbies are huge for the fans, huge for the bragging rights and, most importantly this week, if they win they get ahead of us in the table but if we win we put a bit of daylight between us and them,” admitted Keatley.
“I know it’s only early in the campaign but towards the end of the season you’re always looking for an extra point or two to get you into that top four.
“Ulster’s style and the way they play is kind of catered for whichever out-half plays. Peter Nelson’s been doing a good job while Paddy Jackson was away.
“They’re a very good team, they’ve got a lot of flexibility and variety in their game and they got us with one or two plays when we played them up at Ravenhill last year. So we’ll be looking out for those trick plays and making sure we’re on the ball for Friday night.”
Munster v Ulster family terrace packs for €;40 and general tickets can be bought online here, from the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices in Thomond Park and Irish Independent Park or by calling 0818 719 300.
With the school mid-term break, Munster are getting into the spooky spirit of things with a free Halloween Fancy Dress party prior to kick-off in The Dugout Bar and Fanzone Plaza.
The party is free and open to all children under the age of 16 years, and the Munster Rugby Supporters Club will be on hand with plenty of prizes up for grabs for best dressed and more.
This is sure to be a great night for all the family so make sure to get dressed up and join the fans at The Dugout Bar and Fanzone Plaza for Munster’s own ‘Night of the Living Red’!