Leinster v Munster preview: Stakes higher for the men in red

For Munster the URC is their sole chance to end a decade without silverware

United Rugby Championship: Leinster v Munster

Kick-off: 7.15pm. Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin. On TV: Live on TG4, Premier Sports.

Secure in pole position and safe from the chasing peloton, Leinster are assured of a home route potentially all the way through to the URC final.

For Munster, the stakes are altogether higher. They go into the final full round of matches knowing that they’ll need a win to copper fasten a quarter-final in Thomond Park while a defeat could condemn them to another trek to South Africa or Belfast in the last eight a fortnight hence.

Leinster also have their eyes on the bigger prize of the Champions Cup final next Saturday in Marseilles whereas for Munster this is their sole chance to end a decade without silverware.


Hence, Leo Cullen has named an entirely new starting XV while allowing those who dissected Toulouse in last week's Champions Cup semi-final a two week run-in to the Marseilles decider against La Rochelle. Not that this hungry side will lack for motivation, not with ticket sales of 34,000 as of Friday, and Munster in town.

Interestingly, although La Rochelle are seventh in the Top 14 and just outside the play-off positions, thus meaning they need to beat Stade Francais on Saturday afternoon at home in their penultimate match, Ronan O’Gara appears to have prioritised next week’s final.

Only Victor Vito and Jonathan Danty are retained from last week's starting XV in their Champions Cup semi-final win over Racing 92.

But whereas O'Gara has promoted all eight of last week's replacements, only Cian Healy of Leinster's '23' last week is retained, and a tad disconcertingly given Tadhg Furlong was a 17th minute departure last week with an ankle injury, Healy is covering tighthead.

Cullen played down concerns over Furlong, as well as Ronan Kelleher (concussion) and James Lowe (leg), when maintaining: "The lads are coming on well, all three of them. I think he (Furlong) should be fine. That's the way I understand it at the moment. He should be okay."


Healy’s selection to cover tighthead was, he said, simply with a view to adding another string to both his and Leinster’s bow.

By contrast, Munster make just four changes, all enforced, from the side which kicked off their 100-minute plus epic kicking competition against Toulouse a fortnight ago.

All in all, it has echoes of the Rainbow Cup game at the RDS last April, when Leinster’s selection meant a relatively full-strength Munster simply had to win, and duly did by 27-3. Leinster have seven of their starting XV from that day, Munster have eight.

Without David Kilcoyne, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O'Mahony, and Damian de Allende, Munster possibly aren't quite as strong. Then again, without Garry Ringrose, James Lowe, Dan Sheehan, Andrew Porter and Ross Molony from that day, neither are Leinster perhaps.

Furthermore, Munster will have the advantage come kick-off of knowing exactly what is required of them to secure a top four/top two place. So they have more to play for and a win here could mean these two sides mightn’t be finished with each other this season just yet.

LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Rob Russell, Jamie Osborne, Ciarán Frawley, Rory O'Loughlin; Harry Byrne, Cormac Foley; Ed Byrne (capt), Seán Cronin, Thomas Clarkson; Joe McCarthy, Josh Murphy; Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Replacements: John McKee, Peter Dooley, Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Alex Soroka, Ben Murphy, David Hawkshaw, Adam Byrne.

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Josh Wycherley, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Thomas Ahern; Fineen Wycherley, Alex Kendellen, Jack O'Donoghue (capt).

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Keynan Knox, Jason Jenkins, Jack Daly, Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU, 62nd league game)

Verdict: Munster to win.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times