RIGHT. ALL THAT has come before is finished with.
Thrashings doled out by Connacht and the Ospreys last week bear no relevance when you have a derby of this magnitude on your plate.
Munster have not recorded a win in Dublin since a comprehensive 18-0 win at the RDS in September 2008 when Felipe Contepomi had one of his familiar wayward days against the red shirt.
So as they bid to buck that trend in front of almost 50,000 people at the Aviva Stadium, here are some key aspects of the game we’re looking forward to.
Munster’s new style
The red shirts have been attempting a more expansive game for some time now. But when the chips are down they have reverted to sort. An attacking ethos needs to be instilled at every level and you can see Rob Penney has done just that.
The game may have been dead and gone last week when the southern province quick tapped a penalty on their five-metre line and made 50 yards through Keith Earls, but they have been doing that kind of thing regularly this season. At home to the Dragons, the only response TheScore.ie could muster was gleeful laughter to see them off-loading on their own try-line when most would have been happy to take their chances with a scrum.
However, Leinster have been playing with flare for quite a while now and have only ever shown rare glimpses of it in games against Munster. These encounters are most often dogged affairs and Penney’s side will have to fight tooth and nail for the right to get the ball wide.
Tonight will be Munster’s second consecutive outing with the pairing of Casey Laulala and Keith Earls in the engine room. They showed promise behind a beaten pack last week, but the task will be made all the more difficult when marked by Brian O’Driscoll and Fergus McFadden.
Penney clearly sees this partnership as a central tenet to his flowing game-plan, yet we can’t help but feel that Earls – though proven as a fantastic midfielder – at this stage of his province’s transition could be more useful for his province at this stage at fullback with James Downey called in to provide a more two-dimensional, but effective, route forward.
Are two fly-halves better than one?
Munster have experimented with Ian Keatley at fullback this season, and Ian Madigan played there for Leinster in the narrow win over Treviso last month. This week, however, Rob Penney has chosen Denis Hurley to act as a conventional fullback.
The hosts will have the benefit of Madigan’s attacking threat and it will be intriguing to see if and how often he steps in at first receiver with Jonathan Sexton sent to wreak havoc further on in the chain.
The negative, of course, is in defence. It’s hardly unheard of for Ronan O’Gara to drop a high ball on top of an in experienced fullback. Rob Kearney is the best high-fielding ’15′ in world rugby and his absence would be a clear route forward for the old Munster. Madigan will need a lot of help from Isa Nacewa and Andrew Conway.
The front row duel
With Cian Healy straining a bicep midweek and Penney preferring Dave Kilcoyne at loose-head, neither side will have the benefit of their first-choice scrummagers.
Mike Ross and BJ Botha are both in situ, so neither set-piece is likely to go backwards, but we expect Leinster to hold the edge from the start thanks to Heinke van der Merwe. After that…
Impact off the bench
Leinster’s injury woe means their list of replacements is very lightweight. Except, of course, for the heavy guys.
The European Champions front-row reserves are still relatively well-stocked and Joe Schmidt can call upon Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath as relief as well as second row Tom Denton. Behind them though, Schmidt will have to be trustful in youth when the need comes for Jordi Murphy, John Cooney, Noel Reid and Fionn Carr.
Munster have some inexperience in reserve too, but in Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Ian Keatley and James Downey; they should finish strong.
Munster’s back row
It’s could be a long night for Dave O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall (pictured) and Peter O’Mahony. It still sounds strange to say it, given their history of talent in this area, but the back row is the one department where Munster hold a clear disadvantage in this game.
Opposing them will be three front-line internationals, two of whom you would fancy to be picked for Ireland if a team was announced for next week. Simply put: Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip are heavier, stronger and more athletic men.
Throw in the groundhog talents of O’Driscoll to the mix and, on paper, the home side will have four flankers who outstrip their opposite numbers by a long shot.
But rugby’s not played on paper, kid.