MUNSTER entertain old rivals Leinster at Thomond Park on Saturday evening with there being a real sense that the serious end of season business starts right here.
Munster head into this crunch tie three points behind second place Ulster, so with the URC hat on it is very much a must-win game for Johann van Graan’s side, if they are to harbour any ambitions of overtaking Ulster to grab a potential home semi-final berth.
Matt Gallagher; Calvin Nash, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jason Jenkins, Fineen Wycherley; Peter O’Mahony (c), Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes.
Diarmuid Barron, Josh Wycherley, John Ryan, Thomas Ahern, Alex Kendellen, Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Keith Earls.
Saturday’s game also doubles up as Munster’s last Champions Cup prep though, as the last 16 away and home ties against Exeter Chiefs are on the agenda for the next two weekends. So, while van Graan will undoubtedly want to go full gas at Leinster the priority has to be Exeter right now, and with that in mind, the selection may end up being more cautious than it normally would.
Tadhg Beirne’s low-grade thigh injury, Jean Kleyn’s leg strain, Mike Haley’s knee issue and Simon Zebo’s head knock against Benetton make them all doubts. In any other year they would probably be patched up and pushed out onto the Thomond pitch but if there are any doubts about their fitness at all then they should be rested for next week.
With that in mind, there will be particular interest this week as to who is selected at full back, and who gets the nod in the engine room that is the second row.
Jason Jenkins is, of course, joining Leinster at the end of the season. It would be somewhat ironic if his first Munster start was against them this weekend. The Springbok lock is finally fit and well, and could have a huge part to play in Munster’s final push for the silverware summit.
Considering Andrew Conway and Keith Earls are already absent, losing Haley and Zebo would certainly be a blow, but on the flip side it would give van Graan the opportunity to fully assess his options. What better chance to start Joey Carbery at full back with Ben Healy at 10, for instance?
Both Munster and Leinster will be welcoming their internationals back to the fold on Saturday. Munster have showed in recent years that they have been unable to arm wrestle Leinster into submission, so it will be interesting to see what the approach is this time around.
With the first choice back three unavailable the team would not appear to be set up for a box kicking battle, and the idea of targeting the Leinster front row is also an unappealing one, so you would imagine that Munster’s best chance on Saturday is to keep the ball alive and play a high tempo, running game.
But then again, that probably suits Leinster too!