Preview: Leinster v Munster – Is it still a big game?
Leinster v Munster – An Irish rivalry
Ok, so it’s the big in Ireland this weekend. The first big domestic game of the calendar and the lions are back and raring to go – it’s Leinster v Munster at the Aviva stadium in Dublin. So let’s take a look ahead to what is one of the biggest games so far in the revitalised Pro14.
Both teams are coming off the back of a victorious weekend as they begin to filter the Lions stars back into the match day set up.
Albeit not the free-flowing, champagne rugby of previous Leinster teams, last weekend’s win over Edinburgh was a solid victory moving on from a hectic few weeks in South Africa.
Their much publicised troubles off the field in South Africa — refused visas and plane ejections — have been pushed to the side as the boys in blue attempt to gather some Pro14 momentum heading into a European Champions Cup weekend of rugby.
Their push for momentum started last Friday with a hard fought, stuttering win over Edinburgh at the RDS, with Lions – Sexton, O’Brien, McGrath, and Furlong making their first appearances of the season.
Leo Cullen has spoken of the difficulties in having multiple players playing their first game at once at this stage of the season but it is something they will have to rapidly adapt to. This Saturday they face a Munster side looking to establish their head of steam coming into a European weekend.
Munster responded in style to a heavy defeat at the hands of Glasgow the previous week. They came up against a Cardiff Blues team who wilted under the pressure and coughed up a bonus point win to men in red.
Welcoming back their own host of Lions (Murray, Stander, and O’Mahony) Munster seem to be back on track.
And at a good time too, a win over Leinster this weekend would be a major boost in confidence as they head to Castres the following week. The tough visit of O’Gara’s Racing Metro awaits the week after. This is quite simply a monstrous few weeks for the Munster faithful.
Is this game a priority?
So all of this begs the question — what’s the priority for the once Europe-conquering Irish provinces?
There’s no denying that a return to European success would be desirable after years of French and English domination. But at what cost? Teams have often weakened squads ahead of a European tie, this isn’t even a problem reserved for rugby, it’s not uncommon for football teams to rest players ahead of a big European midweek.
But this is Leinster v Munster. Supposedly the great domestic rivalry, the old enemies facing off. Come lunchtime on Saturday, Dublin city centre will be coated in red and blue and there won’t be a drinking establishment on the Southside approaching the Aviva without customers.
A great history
The tie does generally deliver and it’s certainly not without its own coloured history. Although, the moment that most sticks with this writer did occur in a Heineken Cup meeting of the two. It was a semi-final to be precise. A young, only emerging on the scene Johnny Sexton roaring into the face of new firm friend, Irish legend Ronan O’Gara. It was the passion of this tie personified. Unique ecstasy and unrivalled despair. Leinster would of course go on to European glory that year but times have certainly changed.
Chatting to Off the Ball earlier in the week, peter O’Mahony said:
"It's always a big day out for both teams. There's a huge amount of rivalry – a healthy rivalry. It's always massive intensity and you're playing against good friends and international team-mates, it's always nice to have one up on them for a few months.” Peter O’Mahony speaking to Off the Ball
Still, it feels as though this game could be nothing more than an audition for the upcoming European escapades. A “training match” of sorts according to Munster head coach Erasmus.
Whatever they say, this writer certainly feels drawn to the occasion. It is a fixture often looked forward to and one that quite often delivers the goods.
So, if it is an audition for Europe, let’s hope the players have a mighty audition.