By Alan Dymock
ON SATURDAY several Irish rugby fans may feel compelled to abandon their other halves, lock themselves in the living room and turn on the telly. Partners may be left to attend to long walks alone as fans sprint back to the car and the comfort of sports radio. Limerick may be a no-go area for anyone with eardrums.
It’s Munster versus Leinster this weekend.
Attempting a prediction on this one may be a bit like a fishing trip to the Dead Sea, but suffice to say there will be plenty of interest in the result.
The hosts have recalled Felix Jones and Paul O’Connell to the starting lineup and with BJ Botha and Conor Murray returning to the bench there is more of an element of strength to this Munster side.
Leinster, on the other hand, have brought back Sean O’Brien to partner Kevin McLaughlin and skippe Jamie Heaslip, with impressive youngster Jordi Murphy pulling out due to a long-term injury. The biggest surprise for them, though, is that they start Aussie code-hopper Lote Tuqiri at outside centre, partnering Gordon D’Arcy. This twins with the much smaller surprise – if you can even call it a surprise at all – that Ian Madigan is the fly-half Matt O’Connor and Leinster have favoured for the biggest game of their season so far, with Jimmy Gopperth left on the bench alongside the two props who are growing in stature daily, Jack McGrath and Martin Moore.
Munster are third and Leinster are fourth in the table at the moment, but at this stage of the season that is irrelevant and this is particularly the case with such decorated rivals butting heads again.
These two last met at Thomond in April, when Leinster won 22-16 thanks to a late Brian O’Driscoll try, Leinster’s only try of the game against Munster’s two. The great man won’t be on the field this time, so the opportunity to create a moment of magic will have to fall to someone else this time round. Is Tuqiri, in particular, still capable of such conjuring? If he isn’t then Casey Laulala and the tank-bashing defender James Downey will be opposite him hoping to greedily snatch the chance away from him.
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilycoyne, Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer; Donncha Ryan, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony Capt., Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.
Subs: Damien Varley, James Cronin, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Lote Tuqiri, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (c).
Subs: Aaron Dundon, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Luke Fitzgerald.