THE thoughts of watching Munster playing a competitive game of rugby against Leinster in an empty 52,000-seater stadium has a very bittersweet essence to it.
Sweet because it's Munster versus Leinster and both sides have a historical animosity for each other that produces pure and honest rugby and bitter because the fans who mean so much to both sides will not be able to wallow in the unique atmosphere that only these occasions can produce.
I guess the realisation that the World as we previously knew it will never be the same again is taking some time to sink in however, it is imperative that we keep the wheels of sport moving as best we can because if they stop, rust will set in and the damage done by the corrosion will be irreversible.
So, with this in mind a resonating emptiness in what is normally a highly charged ambiance will have to appease our appetite for now.
Munster have not kicked a ball in anger since entertaining the Scarlets way back on February 29 when they emerged victorious (29-10).
Since then players have had to take wage cuts, train in isolation and their regimental everyday schedules have been turned upside down and inside out.
For some of the players the break has been a blessing in disguise and has allowed time for their bodies to recoup.
For others the disruption couldn’t have come at a worse time because they were hitting form and breaking through on to the first team squad.
However, no matter which end of the stick you were gnawing on rugby is a sport where the more time you spend together on the training paddock, the better you will become as a cohesive unit.
Leinster as we all know have an embarrassment of talent in their ranks which is largely due to the structures they have in place within their schools, universities and academy.
At times it seems like Leo Cullen and his coaching team have a conveyor belt that delivers players to their UCD based training facilities that are forged in some kind a fantastical rugby mecca, programmed to play professionally and can seamlessly adopt to the style of play that has made Leinster the kings of Europe.
Munster on the other hand are not so lucky and whilst some may argue that it’s their nurturing system that needs a complete overhaul, they are very much dependent on scouring the planet to bolster their squad.
Two of Munster’s biggest and most costly ever signings arrived in Limerick a few months ago after their victorious World Cup showing in Japan.
South African Rugby World Cup winners Damian de Allende and RG Snyman began their transition and look to have successfully adjusted to the Irish way of doing things, albeit, I am led to believe they are struggling to understand the lingo of some of their more rural team mates.
They still don’t fully know what it means when they drop the ball, and someone calls them a langer. I’m sure they’ll learn quick enough!
Personally, I am not a fan of seeing players arrive from distant shores, but at this stage, I’d better get over it because as long as rugby remains a professional entity, they will not stop coming.
Let there be little doubt about it that these two South African goliaths of the game are world-class operators and Munster badly needed them however, I do still think that with the correct structures in place that Munster can reduce the number of players they are importing and grow from within.
Ever since the retirement of Paul O’Connell Munster have struggled to regain the stranglehold on teams that they once commanded with such frequency and it is now anticipated that the towering figure of Snyman will shoulder this responsibility.
Measuring 2.07cms (6’ 8”) in his socks and weighing in at nearly twenty stone the former Blue Bulls brute certainly has the statistical components to fill O’Connell’s boots, but he must first earn the respect of his new teammates before this happens.
O’Connell had the ability to scare you know what out of his opponents by just looking at them and commanded his players by standing on the front line.
Snyman must first earn his Munster jersey and only then can he worry about dealing with the opposition.
de Allende who I think will actually be more important in helping Munster regain the respect they once commanded will look to give Munster that blunt force edged in the middle of the field.
No insignificant figure himself de Allende has amassed forty-seven caps for the Springboks and has an uncanny way of going through players rather than around them.
What has made Munster great throughout its illustrious history is their ability to turn forward momentum into scores and with Snyman and de Allende leading the way, it will allow for the next wave of red ball carriers to hit the gain line without having to slow down or alter their lines of running.
Because of the lengthy break in the rugby calendar, it is very hard to see who will have the upper hand for this game.
Leinster will certainly gain from playing in the Aviva and Munster will solely miss their red army however, for me I think the victors will be the ones who have knocked lumps out of each other in the weeks beforehand.
Ten years of chasing silver wear and coming up empty-handed is a very poor return for the monies invested in Munster rugby and the trophy cabinet needs something very soon.
Munster must now stop feeling sorry for themselves and stop looking for excuses.
They now have everything that they could possibly need to produce medal-winning seasons and beating Leinster in their own back garden would allow them the perfect platform to launch the next chapter.
Leinster to win because their structures are solid from the foundations up and their game plan is far more refined.