FRIDAY: Guinness PRO14 semi-final: Leinster v Munster Aviva Stadium, 7.35pm.
THIS game, as it always is against Leinster, should be a cracking contest with so many subplots in it.
For the third year in a row, Ireland’s top two provinces go head to head in a PRO14 semi-final with Munster still looking to break their duck.
They went so close two weeks ago but whether they will be given the same latitude at the breakdown this week as they were two weeks ago will be one of those subplots.
Munster lorded it at the breakdown against Connacht with Tadhg Beirne leading the way, aided and abetted by Peter O’Mahony, Niall Scannell and CJ Stander.
Munster will be looking for that quartet to make a nuisance of themselves on the deck again this evening and put pressure on both Leinster and the referee by claiming penalties at the breakdown just as they did last weekend.
Munster, though, will also be aware from that game that they let their own discipline slip and they cannot afford to be down to 14 or 13 men at any stage of this semi-final or the end scoreline will be similar to the previous two semi-finals.
Munster have to be consistently disciplined for the 80 plus minutes rather than going through phases of good and poor discipline as they did last weekend.
Back to the breakdown though, and it is going to be a key battleground and one where Munster must win to give themselves any sort of chance of overcoming the best team in Europe.
Stats from the PRO14 show that Munster are better than tonight’s opponents at their turnover game.
Munster will also look to their lineout to put further pressure on the Leinster pack.
The Reds have the best lineout success rate in the league but they will be coming up against some formidable lineout operators in blue.
Billy Holland has become an integral part of the Munster lineout on and off the pitch and he will have devised a plan to take the Leinster lineout apart tonight.
Leinster were able to put out a second-string side last weekend in their 28-10 win over Ulster but that could be both an advantage and disadvantage.
With just a six-day turnaround there'll be a lot of the Munster side who are playing their third game in 12 days which should see them much more battle-hardened than some of the Leinster players but also perhaps more prone to fatigue.
With the way the cards fell for Munster, they didn’t have the choice of resting key players, Johann van Graan was always going to put his strongest team out against Leinster and when that result went against them, had to follow it up last weekend with almost the same side.
Munster’s focus therefore this week has been very much on recovery and looking to work on a few small areas.
For Leinster, they were able to begin work almost as soon as the game against Munster was over.
One of the big positives Munster will take into tonight’s game is the way they held on to the ball so well against Connacht especially in the first quarter when it was 15 against 15.
They also have kickers in JJ Hanrahan and Rory Scannell that can make Leinster pay for any indiscretions as well as putting Jordan Larmour under pressure with a few ‘bombs.’
He certainly didn’t look comfortable dealing with them in the first game.
Munster will also have that added edge to their game this weekend after the first game against Leinster, they will feel that they left those points behind that night and will be looking to atone. Munster have always played best when they have had that little chip on their shoulder but it will still be a tough task for van Graan’s men.
Like the first game against Leinster, the forwards will have to do a lot of the grunt work and get the ball wide as quickly as possible.
If they can do that then they are in with a serious chance of upsetting the odds, something Munster teams have always been good at doing.
J Larmour; H Keenan, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton - captain, L McGrath; C Healy, R Kelleher, A Porter, D Toner, S Fardy, C Doris, W Connors, J Conan.
S Cronin, E Byrne, M Bent, R Baird, J van der Flier, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, R O’Loughlin.
S Daly; A Conway, C Farrell, D de Allende, K Earls; JJ Hanrahan, C Murray; J Loughman, N Scannell, S Archer; T Beirne, B Holland; P O’Mahony - captain, J O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
K O’Byrne, J Cronin, J Ryan, F Wycherley, C Cloete, C Casey, R Scannell, M Haley.
Andrew Brace (IRFU).