ML Preview: Munster v Leinster

Date published: May 28 2011

The top two provinces in Ireland collide at Thomond Park on Saturday as Munster and Leinster meet in the Magners League Final.

The top two provinces in Ireland will collide at Thomond Park on Saturday as Munster and Leinster face-off in the Magners League Grand Final.

Home advantage will be the former's this week and rightly so after finishing at the summit in what's been a rather up-and-down 2010/11.

First in the campaign they were but their usual European exploits did not materialise, with their rivals from Dublin now kings of the Heineken Cup.

Subsequently, this game has extra flavour thrown in as Munster will be fresh from two weeks off while Leinster may have an emotional hangover.
Obviously they will have partied in Cardiff but not too heavily as the prospect of completing a 'double' is an opportunity that doesn't come often.

For that possible trophy double, Joe Schmidt has made three changes in all to the starting XV from last weekend, with the ever-improving centre Fergus McFadden in for an injured Gordon D'Arcy.

Jonathan Sexton – who has now scored 228 points in 18 games this term – links up with Eoin Reddan, with Luke Fitzgerald, Shane Horgan and Isa Nacewa in the back three.

In the pack, Heinke van der Merwe will make his 31st appearance of the season and is one of two forward changes as Shane Jennings comes in to link up with Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip in what is a strong back-row. Some readers are backing this trio for Ireland.

Leo Cullen skippers alongside Nathan Hines, while the province can call upon three Ireland internationals off the bench in Cian Healy, Kevin McLaughlin and Devin Toner.

Meanwhile, David Wallace will win his 200th Munster cap in an unchanged starting XV from the home side. The matchday 23 shows just one change from the squad that saw off the Ospreys in the semi-final, with Johne Murphy named on the bench.

Otherwise it's as you were for McGahan's side as they chase a title they last captured in 2009. Wallace, playing in his 17th game of the season becomes just the sixth Munster player to reach 200 caps, having made his debut against Connacht in August 1997.

Head-to-head: After a man-of-the-match performance in Cardiff, Jonathan Sexton this week pits himself against Irish fly-half rival Ronan O'Gara. Leinster maestro was in superb form against Northampton and his personal duel with ROG, despite Declan Kidney's World Cup selection being pretty clear, should be of interest. O'Gara will want to put one over his younger international team-mate, thus sending a message that he is not finished just yet.

Form: Munster's 24-23 victory over Leinster at Thomond Park in April ended a five game losing run against their great rivals. Leinster's only victory in Limerick since 1995 was 16-15 in the Magners League on 2 April 2010. Munster topped the Magners League table ever since round two and disposed of Ospreys in the Play-Offs. The Munstermen are chasing a third league title following their successes in 2003 and 2009. Munster have won their last nine Magners League encounters and another victory will leave only Leinster with a better winning run in league history, when they won their first eleven matches in 2001-2002. Munster have won all 12 home games they have played in the Magners League this campaign. Leinster, the new European Champions, are now seeking a league and European Cup double, something that has only been achieved on four previous occasions (by Toulouse, Leicester – twice and Wasps). Leinster have been league champions twice before (2001 and 2008) and have won their last seven matches in all competitions.

Magners League Final Betting Odds: Munster 6/5, Draw 16/1, Leinster 8/11

Prediction: Close one, but Leinster by 3 points!

The teams:

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Lifiemi Mafi, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 David Wallace, 6 Donncha Ryan, 5 Paul O'Connell (capt), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Niall Ronan, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Johne Murphy.

Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Fergus McFadden, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Leo Cullen (capt), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Stan Wright, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Kevin McLaughlin, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Eoin O'Malley.

Date: Saturday, May 28
Kick-off: 17:05
Venue: Thomond Park
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Tim Hayes (Wales), David Jones (Wales)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Timekeeper: Andrew Baird

By Adam Kyriacou