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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Leinster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster v Leinster

Thomond Park has not been a happy hunting ground for Leinster over the years with just one win at the venue since 1995. And with Munster looking to close the gap on the RaboDirect PRO12 leaders, once again there will be no quarter asked for or given as the provincial heavyweights collide in a top of the table clash.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, March 31

MUNSTER (2nd) v LEINSTER (1st), Thomond Park, 7.30pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC ALBA)

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Team News: Returning Ireland internationals Keith Earls, Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter O’Mahony and Ronan O’Gara are among the five changes made to the Munster team for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 showdown with arch rivals Leinster.

Out-half O’Gara will captain the side in the absence of the injured Paul O’Connell, as the defending league champions look to beat Leinster and close the gap on the table toppers in the RaboDirect PRO12.

The other change in personnel sees Marcus Horan preferred at loosehead prop to Wian du Preez, while there is also a positional switch with Johne Murphy moving from outside centre to the right wing.

Horan came on as a second half replacement for du Preez against Connacht last time out, and on the basis of his impressive shift retains the number 1 jersey a week before the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster.

Mick O’Driscoll and O’Callaghan partner up in the second row for just the third time this season,

Meanwhile, Gordon D’Arcy will become only the second Leinster player in history, behind Shane Horgan, to reach the 200 cap landmark when the Wexford man lines up in Limerick on Saturday.

D’Arcy, 32, made his provincial debut away to Edinburgh in September 1998 and to date he has scored 306 points in Leinster colours – 55 tries, five penalties, four drop goals and two conversions – over a span of 14 seasons.

D’Arcy will link up in the centre with the fit-again Brian O’Driscoll, who successfully came through his first appearance of the season against the Ospreys last weekend.

Luke Fitzgerald will become the province’s 18th player to reach the 100-cap mark. He forms a potent back-three alongside Isa Nacewa and the returning Rob Kearney, with Eoin Reddan partnering Jonathan Sexton at half-back.

Number 8 Jamie Heaslip captains the team as part of an all Ireland international back row alongside Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin.

All Black ace Brad Thorn locks down alongside Devin Toner for his first experience of the Leinster-Munster rivalry, while South African Heinke van der Merwe has been named in the front row alongside Ireland internationals Sean Cronin and Mike Ross.

Leo Cullen, who returned from Achilles surgery against the Ospreys last time out, and fellow internationals Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien are listed among the replacements.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Johne Murphy, Keith Earls, Lifeimi Mafi, Simon Zebo; Ronan O’Gara (capt), Tomas O’Leary; Marcus Horan, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, David O’Callaghan, Peter O’Mahony, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Mike Sherry, Wian du Preez, Stephen Archer; Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, Ian Keatley, Danny Barnes.

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Isa Nacewa, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Heinke van der Merwe, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Brad Thorn, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy, Jamie Hagan, Leo Cullen, Sean O’Brien, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Michael Black (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 5/6; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: Evens

Pre-Match Quotes: Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster) – “Leinster are a quality opposition so it has been a tough week. It really bangs it home that you have to be on top of all the little details since coming back from Ireland and getting back into Munster colours.

“It’s been great, there’s a huge appetite for work at Munster and the standards are really high, so you’re getting back and the work ethic is already in place.

“It would be hard to make that shift back to Munster if the standards weren’t so high, you would be coming back and dragging the disappointment of the Six Nations with you.

“But you get back and the lads here pick you up and drag you along, they know you’re hurting but the momentum is building here and that’s all we want.”

Eoin Reddan (Leinster) – “You have massive respect for what Munster have done and we’ll have to come out all guns blazing this weekend and be at our best to go down there and try and get a result.

“They’re at home and I’m not sure how many players they’re missing at this stage but they’ve got a great squad and great teams behind them and we certainly won’t be favourites this weekend.

“We’ve a lot to do to try and get the work done to win this game and we’ll give it our best shot.

“It could be a thriller and we’re up against a team that is favourites for the Heineken Cup maybe. They finished top seeds from probably the toughest group of the Heineken Cup so you have to respect that.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 147; Tries: Simon Zebo 6; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 108; Tries: Ian Madigan 7


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
Saturday, May 28, 2011 – Grand final – Munster 19 Leinster 9, Thomond Park
Friday, November 4, 2011 – Leinster 24 Munster 19, Aviva Stadium


– Munster have lost just one of their last eight encounters in all competitions, going down 21-17 at Aironi in the rearranged game on March 11

– The Munstermen’s only home defeat in the PRO12 since April 2010 was a 17-13 loss to the Ospreys last October

– Leinster’s amazing unbeaten run ended at the hands of the Ospreys last Friday, although the Leinstermen have still not lost away from home since round 1 of this season’s league

– Leinster have won all four games they have played against fellow Irish provinces this season

– Leinster have won just once at Thomond Park since 1995, securing a 16-15 victory back in April 2010