LEINSTER VERSUS MUNSTER has taken on a life on its own and, as the sell out crowd for today’s game shows, has captured the public’s imagination. Aside from the league and Heineken Cup ambitions, it has become an entity on its own. It is a massive game.
Since 2006, it has been the centre of attention and, no matter what the players say, they buy into the press, the media and the hype. there is a lot at stake this weekend and, while Ulster are a big component of the Test team, this match is, for many with Ireland ambitions, a trial game.
I was disappointed that Tommy O’Donnell did not feature in the final couple of Six Nations matches. He came on in the Wales game, played very well and helped secure a couple of turnovers but was jettisoned after that. He had been in unbelievable form last season and was unfortunate to pick up an injury before Christmas. He came back in time to earn a spot in the Irish matchday squads but perhaps [Ireland coach] Joe Schmidt felt he needed more game time with Munster. He will be one of the Munster lads keen to show Schmidt what he is worth.
There are different ways of looking at the high number of Leinster players in the Ireland squad — I know Denis Leamy was critical of the proportion Schmidt’s former players selected — but it is important to have that discussion. There were an awful lot of Leinster lads in the Irish squad but, I think, that was more to do with their closeness with Schmidt’s tactics. They, at the moment, have the upper hand in fitting into Schmidt’s systems. It is up to lads like O’Donnell, Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan to get themselves up to speed as soon as possible.
Schmidt does seem to be au fait with the Leinster lads but he is extremely particular about how he wants things done. It will be important for Zebo, O’Donnell, Keith Earls and Dave Kilcoyne, when he comes on, to put up their hand for Irish selection. No doubt about it, the paucity of Munster players in the Ireland squad will be a mental weapon for them.
The second row looks like an interesting area of battle as the abrasive Dave Foley and Paul O’Connell, who has been in top form, come up against Mike McCarthy and Devin Toner. The battle, however, always starts up front in an interpro. Michael Bent will be targeted but I don’t expect it to be an area where Munster will profit wildly.
I heard on the radio, on Friday, that Denis Hurley had been selected ‘as expected’ at inside centre ahead of James Downey. I, for one, was not expecting that. There has been no word of Downey being injured so it is an interesting selection by Rob Penney. Denis has that physical presence required for midfield but I expect Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy to give him a tough afternoon.
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
This may be O’Driscoll’s final interpro and he has been a player that has troubled Munster for years. He is such an important playmaker for Leinster and sets up so much off the first phase. I remember a game from Musgrave Park when Leinster scored off an intricate — or least it seemed intricate at the time — backline move. O’Driscoll did the damage, made the space and Denis Hickie steamed in. He was always a player who fought for everything and a guy who often came up in our team meetings. The talk was never to give him two sides because he was so capable of stepping you either way. You gave him one side, if you could, and tried to track him down.
Going back to this evening’s game, there is honestly a chink of truth to the Penney line that Munster are playing the Six Nations champions. It is relevant. Munster lads will feel upset and have a massive chip on their shoulder. They are notoriously close games but I expect that anger and that mental edge to nick Munster the game.
@wa22y played 197 times for Munster, won 72 Test caps with Ireland and appeared in three Tests with The British and Irish Lions. He runs @MrSimmsCrescent Olde Sweet Shoppe at the Crescent Shopping Centre.
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