Newly-crowned Heineken Cup champions Leinster are seeking a domestic and European double in Limerick, which would be a first for a Celtic team. It has only been achieved on four previous occasions (by Toulouse, Leicester Tigers (twice) and London Wasps).
MAGNERS LEAGUE GRAND FINAL: Saturday, May 28
MUNSTER (1st) v LEINSTER (2nd), Thomond Park, 5.05pm (live RTE 2/TG4/BBC ALBA/BBC 2 Wales)
Team News: Back rower David Wallace will win his 200th cap as part of the unchanged Munster team selected for Saturday’s Magners League grand final against Leinster at Thomond Park.
Munster’s matchday 23 shows just one change from the squad that saw off Ospreys in the semi-final, with Johne Murphy named on the bench in place of Simon Zebo.
Otherwise it is as you were for Tony McGahan’s side as they chase a title they last captured in 2009. Kerry youngster Danny Barnes, a two-try hero against the Ospreys, keeps his place at outside centre.
Wallace, playing in his 17th game of the season, will become just the sixth Munster player to reach the 200th cap mark, having made his debut against Connacht in August 1997 alongside Ronan O’Gara.
Previewing the league decider, Wallace said: “I would take the favourites’ tag totally out of this game. It’s a unique game.
“Basically, the team who plays as well as they can, makes the least amount of mistakes and shows up with the best attitude is going to win it. Everything else goes out the window, except for what happens in those 80 minutes.
“Leinster have a fantastic back row but they have ball carriers in the front row too. It is very much part of their strength at the moment.
“They will go into this game trying to protect their reputation as Heineken Cup champions and going for the double. From an Irish point of view, the management team must be licking their lips.
“They probably couldn’t have planned it any better. There are (Rugby World Cup) places up for grabs, but there are every time you throw on a jersey.
“In that situation, when you’re out there you’re in a trial game. You kind of forget about what happened before and focus on doing your best in that. That is all you can do.”
Meanwhile, there are three changes to Leinster’s starting line-up from last weekend’s Heineken Cup final with Ireland international Fergus McFadden coming in to partner Brian O’Driscoll at centre.
McFadden takes over from Gordon D’Arcy who has been sidelined by an ankle injury.
Jonathan Sexton, who has now scored 228 points in 18 Leinster appearances so far this season, links up with Eoin Reddan at half-back, while Luke Fitzgerald, Shane Horgan and Isa Nacewa have been named again in the back-three.
In the pack, Heinke van der Merwe will make his 31st appearance of the season and is one of two changes up front as Shane Jennings comes in to link up with Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip in the back row.
Leo Cullen skippers the team and starts alongside Scotland’s Nathan Hines in the second row, while the province can call upon three Ireland internationals off the bench in Cian Healy, Kevin McLaughlin and Devin Toner.
Previewing the grand final in Limerick, hooker Richardt Strauss said: “We know that it is going to be a tough battle against Munster. We know them pretty well and they are a physical side.
“We have to try and stop their momentum, and if we can do that it will be a close game. We are a proud squad and are ready to take them on this weekend. We are hungry to win more trophies.
“We have been well managed all season and the coaching staff have looked after us in the run-in to the end of the season, so we’re all ready to go.”
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Doug Howlett, Danny Barnes, Lifeimi Mafi, Keith Earls; Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray; Marcus Horan, Damien Varley, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell (capt), Donnacha Ryan, David Wallace, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer, Denis Leamy, Niall Ronan, Peter Stringer, Paul Warwick, Johne Murphy.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Nathan Hines, Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Cian Healy, Stan Wright, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Paul O’Donohoe, Ian Madigan, Eoin O’Malley.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, David Jones (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 6/5; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 4/6
Pre-Match Quotes: Paul O’Connell (Munster) – “There’s no doubt that Leinster are the best side in Europe at the moment. They’re playing great rugby.
“The manner in which they made the final with the teams they had to play and then the manner in which they won the final proves that.
“I’d never seen such a turnaround. Obviously teams have come back from scorelines like that plenty of times but I’d never seen a team be so dominant in the second half.
“It’s a big Magners League final at home. Physicality won’t be a problem for us. It’s the last game of the year, we’re playing at home and we’re playing our biggest rivals who are coming here as European champions.
“It’s probably the same mentality for them coming down to Thomond Park, playing one of their biggest rivals and with there being silverware up for grabs. Both teams will be up for it mentally.
“While our Magners League form has been good, our European form has been poor. We’re probably not where we want to be and they’re probably where they want to be so there’s a lot of pressure on us, absolutely.
“But that’s the way rugby is at this level and this time of year. It’s all about pressure and we”l see how we perform under that pressure come Saturday.”
Leo Cullen (Leinster) – “Munster have a lot of strong mental strength. In terms of comparison to Northampton last weekend, if Munster had a 16-point lead it is very hard to see how they would have lost. That’s the challenge we face.
“I presume they will go into the league final as favourites, being at home and their preparations have been better, but we’ll try and give a good account of ourselves when we get down there.
“We killed ourselves with the (lack of) discipline in our last game against Munster. We had done well in the first half and were 11 points up at the break.
“I don’t know what went wrong in the second half, but we just didn’t perform and ended up giving away far too many silly penalties.
“We just needed to keep our hands on the ball in the final minute but we conceded another penalty for them to win it. We know Munster are a team that are not going to go away. They got stronger and stronger as that game went on.
“We talk of that swing of momentum. We couldn’t get a foothold in the game. We got bullied in the contact areas and that’s some thing we will look at for this weekend.
“They are a very good side as they have showed in the league, losing only a handful of games. We know them fairly well – not just as rivals but as friends too – so there will be plenty of added spice.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 179; Tries: Doug Howlett 7; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 142; Tries: Shane Horgan 8
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, May 15, 2010 – Semi-final – Leinster 16 Munster 6, the RDS
Saturday, October 2, 2010 – Leinster 13 Munster 9, Aviva Stadium
Saturday, April 2, 2011 – Munster 24 Leinster 23, Thomond Park
– Munster’s 24-23 victory over Leinster at Thomond Park last month ended a five-match losing run against their great rivals
– Leinster’s only win in Limerick since 1995 was a 16-15 success in the Magners League in April of last year
– Munster topped the Magners League table ever since round 2 and disposed of last season’s champions, the Ospreys, in the play-offs
– The Munstermen are chasing a third league title following their successes in 2003 and 2009. They have won their last nine Magners League encounters and another victory will leave only Leinster with a better winning run in league history, when they won their first eleven matches in the 2001/02 campaign
– Munster have won all 12 home games they have played in the Magners League this season
– The Leinstermen have been league champions twice before (in 2001 and 2008) and have won their last seven matches in all competitions