Leinster v Munster, Magners League semi-final, May 15
Final chance for Irish rivals
May 14, 2010
Doug Howlett returns for Munster against Leinster © Getty Images
Fierce rivals Leinster and Munster will go head-to-head for a place in the Magners League final this Saturday as they look to overcome their respective Heineken Cup semi-final exits and salvage some silverware from their seasons.
Both sides were booted out of Europe by French sides a fortnight ago with Munster falling to Biarritz in San Sebastian and Leinster losing in Toulouse.
Leinster, last year's Heineken Cup winners, finished the regular season as number one seeds and hold a 100% record over their rivals this season, beating them home and away in the Magners League.
A resounding 30-0 victory at the beginning of October was followed with a narrow 16-15 win at Thomond Park just over a month ago. And form and fitness seem to be on Leinster's side going into the all-Irish semi-final.
Munster, who are bidding to become the first ever side to retain the Magners League Crown, continue to be without inspirational captain Paul O'Connell but Keith Earls has given them a major fitness boost. Persistent groin problems have limited the British & Irish Lions centre's training schedule in the build up to the match but he his named in midfield alongside Jean de Villiers.
Munster are also boosted by the return of former All Black winger Doug Howlett , who has been sidelined since the Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Northampton last month. Mick O'Driscoll deputises for O'Connell while there is no place in the back-row for Lions openside David Wallace, who loses out to Niall Ronan as Nick Williams starts at No.8. Munster have lost their last three fixtures, including defeats to Cardiff and Ospreys in the Magners League.
In contrast, Leinster go into the game on the back of a bonus point victory over Edinburgh on Sunday night. Isa Nacewa, following his 17-point haul in the 37-28 win, reverts to the wing as Jonathan Sexton is fit to return at fly-half and resume his duel with Munster skipper Ronan O'Gara.
Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy have been named in midfield while joining Nacewa in the back-three are Rob Kearney and Shane Horgan, who both bagged tries last time out. Veteran lock Mal O'Kelly has announced that he will retire at the end of the season but he is called into action this weekend as skipper Leo Cullen misses out due to a shoulder injury.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, John Fogarty, Stan Wright, Nathan Hines, Malcolm O'Kelly, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings (capt), Jamie Heaslip
Replacements from: Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, CJ van der Linde, Trevor Hogan, Rhys Ruddock, Stephen Keogh, Paul O'Donohoe, Shaun Berne, Fergus McFadden, Girvan Dempsey
Munster: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Jean de Villiers, Lifeimi Mafi; Ronan O'Gara (capt), Tomas O'Leary; Marcus Horan, Damien Varley, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Mick O'Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan, Nick Williams
Replacements: Jerry Flannery, Dave Ryan, James Coughlan, David Wallace, Peter Stringer, Denis Hurley, Scott Deasy
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Live on Setanta Sports and S4/C.