Planet Rugby

Preview: Leinster v Munster

14th May 2010 12:58

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Jonathan Sexton and Mal O Kelly

Back from injury: Jonathan Sexton

Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton will make a surprise return from injury for Saturday's Magners League semi-final against Munster at the RDS.

The fly-half's inclusion will see him resume his partnership with Eoin Reddan at half-back in a back-line which includes six home internationals.

Sexton's inclusion means what Isa Nacewa, who kicked 17 points in the 37-28 victory over Edinburgh last weekend, move to the wing while a retiring Girvan Dempsey drops to the bench.

Nacewa forms a back-three with Shane Horgan and Rob Kearney who, along with Cian Healy and Stephen Keogh, were try-scorers last weekend.

Shane Jennings has recovered from an ankle injury to lead his native province for the fifth time this season in the absence of the injured Leo Cullen. Jennings will resume his back-row partnership with Kevin McLaughlin and Jamie Heaslip, the recently named IRUPA Supporters' Player of the Year.

Cullen's place at lock has been filled by Mal O'Kelly, who will make his 187th Leinster appearance ahead of his retirement at the end of the season.

"It has been an enlightening experience (coaching against Munster)," said Head Coach Michael Cheika, who will finalise his bench closer to kick-off.

"It's everything that's good about the game when these big derby matches (arrive), even the losses which evoke the same emotions because you want to win the games so much.

"I hope that I run into them again sometime soon when I leave because they're a quality outfit and you know you have to battle against them up to the very end.

"We all love to talk about having great victories or winning tournaments, but at the end of the day when Saturday comes along, you want to have a good go and no team gives you a better game than them.

"I think that the key issue is to take every encounter on its own basis. Every ruck and every ball is going to be contested very fiercely.

"If you saw the way they fought against Cardiff (last Sunday), they fought for everything on the ground. It wasn't pretty but they really showed their character in fighting for every ball.

"If there's one thing we are, it's well aware of the fact that we're going to have to be at our most physical if we want to win the game."

Munster meanwhile have made seven changes for Saturday's Dublin showdown, with Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes and Mick O'Driscoll returning to the squad.

Howlett has been out of action since the Northampton quarter-final while internationals Earls, Flannery and O'Driscoll missed last week's trip to Cardiff through injury.

Earls' return sees Lifeimi Mafi switch to left wing while Denis Hurley makes way for Howlett.

Up front Damien Varley continues at hooker as Jerry Flannery returns from injury and the inclusion of Niall Ronan and Nick Williams at seven and eight respectively provides Munster withe strong impact from the bench in the shape of James Coughlan and David Wallace.

Head-to-head: It is tough to pick out just one of the fascinating personal duels set to get underway in the back division this Saturday. But seeing as it's a must, I have gone for the one between New Zealand duo Isa Nacewa and Doug Howlett. Sit back and enjoy this one!

Form: The two sides have met in three previous semi-finals: Munster winning 23-17 at Lansdowne Road in the Celtic Cup in 2004/05, Munster again winning 30-6 in the European Cup at Lansdowne Road in 2005/06, and Leinster gaining a 25-6 victory at Croke Park in last season's Heineken Cup. Leinster, the 2007/08 Magners League champions finished up the regular season as number one seeds with a perfect played nine, won nine record at the RDS in the Magners League. Munster were in fact the last team to defeat the Leinstermen on their home soil in the Magners League, doing so on 28 September 2008. Leinster have won just one of their last five semi-final appearances in all competitions. Munster are bidding to become the first side ever to retain the Magners League crown, although they have lost their last three matches in all competitions. The Munstermen's only victory on the road in their last seven Magners League matches was 18-12 at Connacht on 18 April. Munster have lost their last two semi-final encounters. Leinster have won their last three matches against Munster in all competitions but have not won four in a row against their adversaries since 1983-86.

Prediction: The hosts will have a little too much in the tank. Leinster to win by eight!

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings (capt), 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Malcolm O'Kelly, 4 Nathan Hines, 3 Stan Wright, 2 John Fogarty, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements (from): Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, CJ van der Linde, Trevor Hogan, Rhys Ruddock, Stephen Keogh, Paul O'Donohoe, Shaun Berne, Fergus McFadden, Girvan Dempsey.

Munster: 15 Paul Warwick, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Lifeimi Mafi, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Niall Ronan, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Mick O'Driscoll, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Damien Varley, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Dave Ryan, 18 James Coughlan, 19 David Wallace, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Denis Hurley, 22 Scott Deasy.

Date: Saturday, May 15
Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Venue: RDS
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: James Jones (WRU), Nigel Whitehouse (WRU)
TMO: Hugh Watkins (WRU)

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