Leinster set for Thomond showdown
April 1, 2010
Ronan O'Gara starts at fly-half for Munster © Getty Images
It's a game that needs no extra spice, but Friday's Magners League showdown between Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park will go a long way to deciding the makeup of the play-offs.
Leinster are currently four points clear of the reigning champions and Edinburgh and possess a game in hand as they prepare to storm one of world rugby's great fortresses.
There is a welcome return at No.12 as Gordon D'Arcy slots in alongside Fergus McFadden having recovered from a groin strain picked up on international duty with Ireland. The injury has proved more costly for the men in red with skipper Paul O'Connell and centre Keith Earls both missing out with similar problems.
As a result Ronan O'Gara takes the captain's armband for Munster and goes head-to-head with Jonathan Sexton after the young Leinsterman stole a march in the race to wear the Ireland No.10 jersey during the latter stages of the Six Nations. Sexton's confidence in his place kicking will also have been given a lift by his well-judged effort to beat Connacht last weekend and the kicking duel will be an intriguing sub-plot.
Mick O'Driscoll replaces O'Connell and pairs up with Donncha O'Callaghan in the second-row while David Wallace returns to action at No.8. He will face off against an Ireland team-mate in Jamie Heaslip and there is another interesting match-up as Scotland lock Nathan Hines is called into action at blindside, where he will compete with Munster's wily veteran Alan Quinlan.
There is a clash of styles in the back-three as Munster's second kicking option, Paul Warwick, gets to compare skills with Leinster's free-running Rob Kearney. Isa Nacewa and Girvan Dempsey man the wings for the men in blue while Munster call on Doug Howlett and Ian Dowling.
"It doesn't matter what competition it is Magners or Heineken, this sort of game is right up there with internationals in terms of physicality, intensity," said O'Callaghan, who will play his 160th game for Munster. "Mistakes are normally punished to the full, there'll be very little or no room for error. But these are the type of games that running around in the freezing wind, sleet and rain that we had in Clanwilliam on Tuesday are all about."
Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, L Mafi, J de Villiers, I Dowling; R O'Gara (capt), T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes; D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll; A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Wallace
Replacements: D Fogarty, T Buckley, N Williams, J Coughlan, P Stringer, T Gleeson, S Deasy
Leinster: R Kearney; G Dempsey, F McFadden, G D'Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; S Wright, J Fogarty, CJ van der Linde, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, N Hines, S Jennings, J Heaslip
Replacements: B Jackman, C Healy, M O'Kelly, S Keogh, P O'Donohoe, S Berne, E O'Malley