Leinster and Munster all set for another seismic clash
Today the provincial matters as the national interest takes a back seat in Thomond Park
Munster’s James Downey, Stephen Archer and Tommy O’Donnell tackle Sean O’Brien of Leinster. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Brian O’Driscoll’s last season is liable to be something of a farewell tour but alas, he will not be bidding farewell to Thomond Park. Barring an unlikely rendez vous between the sides at the tail end of the season, the great one won’t be gracing the iconic Munster bearpit again after being ruled out of this latest instalment with a calf strain picked up in training which must also make him doubtful for the province’s opening Heineken Cup game away to the Ospreys next Saturday.
O’Driscoll’s injury will be assessed by the Leinster medical staff over the coming days but at least it would appear he has not sustained a tear. Despite his eye-catching seasonal re-appearance last week, perhaps kickstarting his last season with four games on successive weekends would have been a tall ask anyway, but he’d have dearly loved to play in this game.
Back on Good Friday in 2001 when O’Driscoll scored for a Rest of Ireland XV against Munster, in a game primarily designed as a quasi Lions trial in light of three Ireland games being postponed because of the Foot and Mouth outbreak, the Thomond Park faithful warmly applauded him back to the half-way line.
They were perhaps more generous times but even Munster supporters would agree that, sadly, the standout fixture in the Irish domestic calendar of the professional era will this time not be graced by the standout Irish player of this or, most probably, any other era.
In his stead, the experienced Wallabies winger Lote Tuqiri makes his first appearance since playing the opening half-hour away to Glasgow in a new-look midfield alongside the recalled Gordon D’Arcy, one of 13 Ireland internationals in the Leinster line-up. With Munster also having 14 Irish qualified players in their starting XV, the game has huge relevance for the watching Joe Schmidt and the Irish coaching ticket with the autumnal Tests only five weeks away.
The most significant of these – indeed of any Irish selection this week – is assuredly Matt O’Connor’s decision to retain Ian Madigan at outhalf. Jimmy Gopperth having been granted the first three games, Madigan deserves another run after last week’s six from six, 19-point haul against Cardiff and general game. That said, whereas Rob Penney has nailed his colours to the mast in confirming Ian Keatley is his first-choice outhalf for the next few weeks, you’d take O’Connor at his word when he said his would be a week-to-week selection.
With Leo Cullen also denied what would almost certainly have been his Thomond Park farewell, the home crowd are also denied their favourite Leinster pantomime villain. In his absence, Jamie Heaslip retains the captaincy in a backrow featuring the recalled Kevin McLaughlin and Seán O’Brien (making his seasonal re-appearance), while Mike McCarthy is recalled to partner Devin Toner in the secondrow. The two other changes see recalls for two native Munster men, tighthead Mike Ross and Eoin Reddan.