MUNSTER HAS PROMISED the visiting Leinster side that it will be ‘no holds barred’ tonight, and who are we to call them liars.
First plays second in a league rivalry that has rarely failed to deliver a closely-fought contest. Tries are usually at a premium and the men that tussle for the Ireland Number 10 jersey, Jonny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara, will be called upon at regular intervals.
Matches against Aironi or Edinburgh may have been on the team physios’ wish-list but there is no better way to gear up for a knock-out match than doing battle against your greatest rivals.
Following the abject failure of the Declan Kidney’s team at Twickenham, there can be no better fillip for national spirits than a fiercely contested match that highlights the strengths of the Irish game.
The Ireland coach was criticised at times, during the Six Nations campaign, for not giving untried players an opportunity. Peter O’Mahony, Sean Cronin, Luke Fitzgerald and Simon Zebo are players with a lot to gain this evening.
Leinster captain Leo Cullen admitted that his body was ‘bashed and bruised’ after his comeback against the Ospreys and, accordingly, takes his place on the bench. Devin Toner will start alongside Brad Thorn.
Cullen believes the match at Thomond Park is the perfect warm-up for next Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Cardiff Blues. He said:
The breakdown down at Thomond is always very competitive and fiery. It’ll be another tough old day at the office.
The Leinster pack struggled against Adam Jones and his Ospreys team-mates in the latter stages of the Blues’ loss at the RDS last week. However, injuries to Nathan White and Jamie Hagan certainly crippled Leinster and Cullen is keen to emphasise the improvements the side has made in recent years.
He said, “Maybe we have been a bit guilty in the past but (the scrum) is something we have really targeted. Ever since that semi-final against Toulouse, over there, a couple of years ago, we’ve had (forwards coach) Greg Feek coming in and have managed it a lot better.
“It was well documented in the Heineken Cup final last year against Northampton that we got pretty dinged up but were able to have a look at what went wrong at half-time and come back strong.”
Making a name
Munster winger Zebo is relatively new to the Blues and Crimson rivalry but he feels he is ready to make his name in Munster lore with a match-winning contribution. He said:
The memory that most stands out is the Heineken Cup semi-final that we won and when ROG ran that try in under the posts and went celebrating with the fans. All the players are hugely excited about the game and there has been an extra buzz in the dressing room all week.
Having traded the last two outings, there is a chance for one side to strike a psychological blow. The sides are on a collision course for the Pro 12 Final in late May and a resounding win may make all the difference if the sides face off one more time.