Normally you’d expect there to be a sense of anti-climax about having the Magners League Grand Final a week after the Heineken Cup final, especially after a game as exciting as last week’s decider. If there is any fixture in European club rugby that could hope to compete though, it’s Munster v Leinster and tomorrow’s game is a legitimately exciting prospect.
The last time Leinster made the trip South, they produced a mirror image of the Heineken Cup final. Leading by 11 points at half time, they looked to be cruising to a sixth consecutive victory over their great rivals but a drop in intensity and some rank indiscipline after the break led to a 24-23 defeat.
A game too far for Leinster?
There’s no doubt that Leinster have the better squad at the moment but the hangover (literal and figurative) from the Heineken Cup and the fact that the game is in Thomond Park give Munster a legitimate hope of coming away with the title that they’ve earned over the course of the season. The pride and passion/brave and faithful stuff has always been overplayed with Munster, masking the fact that they’ve had a top-class team for the last 10 years but now that they’re not quite at the top of European rugby, the extra motivation of beating Leinster a week after they won the Heineken Cup will give Munster an extra boost.
Leinster’s last two games have been very physical affairs as can be seen by the list of injuries after each game. Only Gordan D’Arcy is out for tomorrow and Fergus McFadden richly deserves his place in the Leinster team and won’t weaken the team in the slightest. While Brian O’Driscoll didn’t seem to be 100% against Northampton, he didn’t pick up any further injuries in Cardiff and won’t be far from his best. Munster have had the relative luxury of a week off in the build up to this game and are unchanged from the semi final against the Ospreys. If Munster can stay with Leinster into the last 20 minutes, their extra freshness could be a factor.
Munster must breach the Leinster defence
Amazingly, Munster haven’t scored a try against Leinster in their last 6 meetings. This isn’t really down to a lack of cutting edge out wide. With Doug Howlett and Keith Earls on the wings, there’s no reason why the southerners should have so much difficulty breaching the Leinster defence but there seems to be a lack of invention further in. Too often, when the ball goes wide, it’s just shovelled out to the winger who has no space to beat a well-organised defence.
There’s been no better defence in Europe this year than Leinster’s, another reason why the first half calamity against Northampton was such a shock. Munster will have to score a try to win this game as Leinster’s penalty count has improved significantly since giving up 24 points in Thomond Park in April. They may try to bash through Leinster’s defence around the ruck but, if anything, Leinster have been even harder to beat in that area and Munster will have to show some more imagination in their backline if they want to win this.
As for a call on a winner tomorrow, I think Leinster will show no ill-effects from the Heineken Cup win (or the celebrations) and Munster will break their try-drought but Leinster will still have enough to win the game by about 7 points.
Leinster: Nacewa, Horgan, O’Driscoll, McFadden, Fitzgerald, Sexton, Reddan, Van der Merwe, Strauss, Ross, Cullen, Hines, O’Brien, Jennings, Heaslip.
Replacements: Dundon, Healy, Wright, Toner, McLaughlin, O’Donohoe, Madigan, O’Malley
Munster: Jones, Howlett, Barnes, Mafi, Earls, O’Gara, Murray, Horan, Varley, Hayes, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Ryan, Wallace, Coughlan.
Replacements: Sherry, Du Preez, Archer, Leamy, Ronan, Stringer, Warwick, Murphy.