It's Munster against Leinster again in another big final with the men in red badly needing silverware

Today's PRO 14 final at the RDS, kick-off 5pm, is an opportunity for Munster to end a barren 11-year spell since their last success and put an end to a long running series of Leinster victories
It's Munster against Leinster again in another big final with the men in red badly needing silverware

Ronan O'Gara celebrates Munster's last triumph in 2011, when they defeated Leinster in the Celtic League final at Thomond Park, with daughter  Molly. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

FOR nearly a decade now Munster have had to bite their lip after Leinster took over the mantle as the country’s most successful team.

It’s still hard to accept the D4 crowd being regularly crowned cup champions of Europe and the league’s best in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy while Munster’s star faded.

Now, though, there is an opportunity to arrest the slide in this afternoon’s PRO 14 final at the RDS at 5pm.

Just as significant, however, is the need to move on from the glory days of the noughties as former player and now pundit Alan Quinlan outlined in the build-up.

“I think it’s really pivotal because Munster have just got to win a trophy,” he said.

“They have to turn the page on our era. This team has had to deal with the legacy of teams that came before them.

“Sometimes these comparisons are unfair. I made my debut in 1996…we won a European Cup in 2006.

“It takes time to build that culture and the level of quality.” 

The popular Tipperary man had just retired before Munster’s last time lifting silverware, the 2011 Celtic League final victory over this afternoon’s opponents before a crowd of 26,100 at a frenzied Thomond Park at the back end of May.

This latest chapter in the long running saga between the great rivals is going to be very different, however, because the RDS will be silent, save for the voices of the players and officials.

Ten years on and there’s a small number of important figures from that memorable afternoon still involved and with major roles to perform.

Last weekend Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton teamed up at half-back to lead a stirring victory over England. 

Now, they’ll be enemies for 80 plus minutes.

As with the Aviva, wing Keith Earls was also in try-scoring form that day.

Murray had taken over from Peter Stringer during Tony McGahan’s watch at Munster while Sexton was developing into a world class 10.

Much has been made of Munster’s desire to send CJ Stander home to South Africa with a medal though there’s a much bigger story to tell in the overall scheme of things.

Back in 2011, there was also a ‘cause’ though far more poignant after the highly popular and hugely influential strength-and-conditioning coach, Paul Darbyshire, developed Motor Neurone Disease.

The Englishman had spent four seasons with Munster and was considered pivotal in developing that important aspect of player improvement.

And the players didn’t forget to include him after the presentation ceremony, when posing for the customary team picture.

The game itself had to be placed in context due to Leinster’s involvement in the Heineken Cup final the previous week.

Coach Joe Schmidt refused to identify that as the reason behind Munster’s 19-9 triumph, but it had to be a major factor.

The home side started impressively with Dougie Howlett crossing for a try after 12 minutes, Ronan O’Gara converting for 7-0.

There was just one more score in the half, a Sexton penalty after 29 minutes, but his second on the resumption made it a one-point game.

Earls eased Munster nerves with a try after 66 minutes following O’Gara’s cross-kick, six minutes after Sexton had landed his third penalty.

A penalty try in the closing minute sealed victory, prop John Hayes, who would turn 38 later in the year, receiving the plaudits for helping demolish a Leinster scrum.

How Munster would dearly love a repeat this afternoon!

MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett, D Barnes, L Mafi, K Earls; R O’Gara, C Murray; M Horan, D Varley, J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell, captain; D Ryan, J Coughlan, D Wallace. 

Subs: P Warwick for Jones, W du Preez for Horan, M Sherry for Varley, D Leamy for O’Callaghan.

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O’Driscoll, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; H Van Der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen, N Hines; S O’Brien, J Heaslip, S Jennings. 

Subs: C Healy for Van Der Merwe, K McLoughlin for O’Brien, S Wright for Ross, P O’Donohoe for Reddan, A Dundon for Strauss.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

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