Gilt-edged opportunity for Munster to put one over on Leinster
Larmour and Lowe the only two retained from Leinster’s starting line-up in Exeter
Garry Ringrose: Leinster welcome back some big guns from injury such as Ringrose, who captains the side against Munster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Kick-off: 7.35pm, Saturday. Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin. On TV: Live on eirSport 1, Premier Sports 1 (deferred coverage on TG4 at 9.45pm).
Whatever else the Rainbow Cup is, it sure isn’t any Super League.
Looking even more like a square peg in a round hole since the unsurprising inability of the South African sides to travel to the northern hemisphere, the competition is already underway without anyone still knowing how it actually is all going to work.
One appreciates the colossal amount of work in exploring 12 or more potential stop-off points for the quartet of South African sides, but after five or six did nobody think that it might be a good idea to abandon ship?
Failing that, in the eventuality of this ‘dual tournament’ coming to pass did nobody think of a contingency plan, usually a good idea in these trying times?
Hence, as Leinster and Munster meet again this evening, like those from the Celtic countries and Italy, no-one actually knows how the competition is going to pan out other than there will be derbies over the first three rounds. Proposed fixtures for rounds four to six have been circulated to the participants but not the public, and are now subject to alteration.
Check out the Pro14 website and it would seem as if there will be one tale of a dozen teams, suggesting that the top two will advance to a final on the weekend of June 19th, after every side plays six games against random opponents.
If this is to be the format, it will ensure even more dead rubbers than the abbreviated Pro14. Why not two pools of six, each team playing their five group opponents, with the top two progressing to semi-finals?
It was always, how shall we put this, less than imaginative to start things off with a fifth Leinster-Munster meeting since late August, especially four weeks after they contested the Pro14 final.
That said, these two probably couldn’t serve up a dud. If anything, the interest has been heightened by Leinster welcoming back some big guns from injury such as Garry Ringrose, who captains the side, Caelan Doris and James Ryan, the latter two after worrying concussions episodes, while resting a host of others.
Only Jordan Larmour, who switches to fullback, and James Lowe are retained from the starting XV for the win in Exeter a fortnight ago. With Hugh O’Sullivan and Harry Byrne starting at half-back, the former St Gerard’s School pupil and Academy scrumhalf Cormac Foley could become Leinster’s 58th player this season.
By contrast, the fit-again Peter O’Mahony and the promoted Shane Daly are Munster’s only changes from the starting XV from the defeat by Toulouse three weeks ago, although they have promoted Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Keynan Knox, Ben Healy and Calvin Nash to the bench alongside Gavin Coombes.
There’s a Lions subplot too. This is a last outing for contenders like Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Conor Murray and Keith Earls before the squad is announced on Thursday week as well as Andrew Porter and the aforementioned Leinster big guns.
In light of the two selections, this will be seen as a gilt-edged opportunity for Munster to end a six-game losing streak in this rivalry, but Leinster have won ten of the last 11 meetings, and 13 of their last 14 interpros, not to mention 34 of their last 36 matches in the Pro14.
Whatever combination they put out on a given weekend, Leinster are always supremely well coached with talented players seamlessly slotting into position and errors kept to a minimum.
This team doesn’t look weak at set-piece or breakdown time, there’s still plenty of X factor and potentially more oomph of the bench too. Accordingly, Paddy Powers even make them five-point favourites. But you’d have to think that opportunity knocks for Munster here.
Leinster: Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose (capt), Rory O’Loughlin, James Lowe; Harry Byrne, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ed Byrne, Dan Sheehan, Andrew Porter, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Josh Murphy, Scott Penny, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, James Ryan, Scott Fardy, Cormac Foley, Ciarán Frawley, Tommy O’Brien.
Munster: Mike Haley; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Keynan Knox, Fineen Wycherley, Gavin Coombes, Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Calvin Nash.
Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU).
Forecast: Munster to win.