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Spike in interest as Leinster and Munster prepare to lock horns

Some 44,000 tickets already sold for the big clash at the Aviva Stadium

Leo Cullen: “They [Munster] have looked strong and very cohesive over the last 12 months. Very organised and efficient in what they do.” Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

The first interprovincial derbies of the season and particularly the first meeting of Leinster and Munster constitute something of a benchmark in the season. As Leo Cullen is wont to put it, this is when the spike happens.

Accordingly, despite the early afternoon kick-off, there has indeed been a spike in the ticket sales for Saturday’s meeting of the two heavyweights at the Aviva Stadium, with 3,000 more sold in the last 48 hours taking the total to 44,000 and counting.

There’s no doubt that the return of a quartet of Leinster’s Lions last week against Edinburgh heightened awareness that the new season is actually up and running.

The expectation is that Robbie Henshaw will become their fifth summer tourist to New Zealand to launch his season by joining Johnny Sexton, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong and Sean O’Brien in Leinster’s starting line-up when Leo Cullen announces his starting line-up tomorrow.

Similarly, for all Rassie Erasmus’ musings to the contrary, and as Cullen expects, the Leinster quintet are likely to be renewing acquaintances with another trio who featured in the Test series, namely Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Conor Murray.

With the November internationals against South Africa, whom Ireland have just displaced at number three in the world rankings, Fiji and Argentina looming, there will be plenty more individual battles on display.

A crack

“This is when the spike happens,” said Cullen. “It focuses the minds of the players, even though some of them haven’t played a huge amount. It does focus the mind because of what’s at stake. There’s probably somebody clipping at their heels at both sides.

“I’m sure there’s some established players and some up and comers in the Munster and Leinster teams that would want to have a crack at those players because they are competing for higher honours as well and team selection.”

Munster may have been marginally ahead of Leinster in their preparations for the visit of Cardiff last weekend given they did not have the distraction of a ten-day trek to South Africa, from which Leinster only returned last Monday week.

“Yeah, they’ve had similar sort of challenges to ourselves; guys coming back in and disjointed,” says Cullen.

“They have probably trained together more over the last few weeks which gives them that advantage over us. You can see they were a bit disjointed first half but once they started to turn the screw second-half Munster were able to open that bit of separation. They’ve looked strong and very cohesive over the last 12 months. Very organised and efficient in what they do.”

Cullen, Stuart Lancaster and the rest of the Leinster think tank will be grateful for the routine that comes with back-to-back Saturday home games, given Vern Cotter’s high-flying, big-spending, Top 14 leaders Montpellier pitch up with revenge in their nostrils at the RDS next week.

“They are world class,” says Cullen. “They simply are. We tend to look at ourselves first and only having the squad fully back together the last week we are just trying to build momentum week on week now. That’s what we can control.

“They are exciting weeks. There is so much competition in our squad at the moment that everyone wants to be involved in the games, first against Munster and then into Champions Cup week. It does wonders for the club having so much competition but it probably keeps us on our toes even more.”