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Bundee Aki of Connacht is tackled by Jean Kleyn of Munster during the Guinness PRO14 clash. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki of Connacht is tackled by Jean Kleyn of Munster during the Guinness PRO14 clash. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
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The David Corkery column: Munster and Leinster is rugby on a knife-edge even when the big names are missing

WE have all heard the expression 'you could cut the atmosphere with a knife'.

This very simple yet powerful one-liner offers a great way of explaining how emotion can have an almost physical presence.

Opening your exam results, going on a first date, waiting for a loved one at the airport or attending a funeral of someone you had a special bond with... occasions where the atmosphere that surrounds you is so dense you feel like throwing up.

The other place where this gut-wrenching ambiance often occurs is in the confines of a dressing room, and especially so when there is something tangible to play for. I have often witnessed a fellow player empty the contents of his stomach and it emphatically sets the tone for what’s about to ensue.

Being in an environment with a bunch of people you'd be prepared to die for, is a feeling that no money could buy. This is exactly how the players from Munster and Leinster will be feeling just before they take to the hallowed turf of Thomond Park on Saturday.

This isn't just another league game. This is a private war that the players must deal with long before the game even begins.

Most coaches will encourage their players to leave their emotions behind them. Personally, this never worked for me though I could see where they were coming from now. Maybe if I listened back then, my body wouldn’t be as broken as it is.

If you let the occasion get to you it can submerge your thought process with conflicting signals. And in the systematic and pre-planned game we see played today, every player has a specific role he must fulfil.

Munster forwards coach Graham Rowntree celebrates with Jack O'Donoghue, right and Jeremy Loughman after beating Connacht. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Munster forwards coach Graham Rowntree celebrates with Jack O'Donoghue, right and Jeremy Loughman after beating Connacht. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

One lapse of concentration or moment of red mist can be the difference between winning or losing and it is just a horrible sensation when it is your inaccuracy that causes disappointment for so many. I guess this is why sport is such a great or cruel entity to be part of.

There are many reasons why both provinces want to win this game.

For Leinster, this festive occasion offers Leo Cullen and his players another opportunity to hammer home their current superiority. Eight from eight in the Guinness Pro14 and four from four in the Champions Cup, a serious statisti.

Everybody speaks about the numbers game when trying to explain how Leinster have gotten to where they are. The talent their schools system is churning out faster than their academy can capture them helps, while others suggest it is the quantity of senior international players in their squad that encourages the next in line to be better, stronger, faster and more ruthless. 

Either way they seem to have unearthed the perfect formula. 

In Munster’s case, their need for victory has more of a sense of urgency about it. Not having won anything for a long time, Munster need to have a look at their process and stop chasing the end result. 

There is no point at looking for external help or guidance because what works in Ulster, Leinster, Australia or New Zealand will not work in Munster. As we all know Munster is rather unique in its DNA.

Historically it's torn between having two homes: Cork and Limerick. While most would believe that this is now resolved with the development of Thomond Park and the high-performance centre in the University of Limerick, why are its head offices still based in Cork? It just makes no sense.

In recent years some of the off-field decisions have not always reaped the desired outcomes. A revolving door of coaches, failure to replace key players in pivotal areas of leadership and a less than satisfactory return from the academy have all contributed.

Don’t fret as there is light at the end of the tunnel and winning tomorrow would go a long way in helping this process of a rebuild. The return of Joey Carbery to the fold isn’t going to turn Munster into a world-class side but it'll create more competition in the most important position.

JJ Hanrahan has ticked most of the boxes required while wearing the number 10 and is a completely different player to the one that returned from his stint in the UK. Maybe he still lacks that x-factor but at least he has proven himself on a European stage now.

Regrettably, we will not see the strongest players because of the IRFU's player welfare system. For some, this is great news. Both CJ Stander and Chris Farrell will be in the stands watching, but one player who should be afforded a respectable amount of game time is scrum-half Craig Casey.

Casey (20) has already proven that his diminutive frame is not a barrier and considering Conor Murray's recent string of average performances, the Shannon man deserves a shot. I also believe it will be good for Murray to have someone nipping at his heels.

Only a fool would bet against Leinster continuing their run of victories. Yet why can't Munster upset the odds? Perhaps a draw might be worth a euro. 

Whoever wins, I would expect for them to have worked bloody hard to achieve it.

These are the kind of games where future heroes prove they are good enough and where established ones show they still have what it takes. I just hope that both sides play a bit of adventurous and risky rugby.

Let's just hope that the Christmas dinner doesn’t reappear before the game in the dressing room or maybe we should hope it does!