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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Guinness Pro14 Semi Final
Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Friday, 4th September 2020, 19:35

TV: Live on Eir Sports

For the third year running, Leinster will host Munster in the Pro14 semi-final.

Last week Munster secured their spot by beating a second string Connacht team in a bizarre game marked by crazy indiscipline from the Westerners. Even though Connacht had singled their intention early in the week to stand down all their big hitters, Munster still opted to choose a close to full strength lineup. And yet since the final whistle went on Sunday, they've been moaning about their five day turnaround before the match tomorrow evening. If they were so worried about it, why not manage their squad a bit better?

In any case it could work to Munster's benefit with two games in most of their players' legs as to one the majority of this Leinster side have. Connacht were always going to be crushed with the team they selected regardless of the red cards. But Munster still played some good attacking rugby and their team could have the advantage of a better rhythm and understanding between their main players. The in-form Andrew Conway scored two tries for the second game running and the former Leinster player finally seems to be living up to his earlier promise he showed in his Blackrock school days.

He's named in a back three again with Shane Daly and Keith Earls. Chris Farrell teams up again with Damian de Allendre in the centre. JJ Hanrahan and Conor Murray are the halves. With Dave Kilcoyne, Jean Kleyn and their big signing RG Snyman all out injured, the performance of the Munster front five could be the winning and losing of the match. Another former Blackrock and Leinster academy player Jeremy Loughman gets a deserved nod over James Cronin at loosehead prop. Niall Scannell starts at hooker and Stephen Archer is at tighthead prop. Tadhg Beirne and Billy Holland form a mobile but relatively lightweight second row. Peter O'Mahony captains the team again from blindside with CJ Stander at number eight. Jack O'Donoghue gets the nod over Tommy O'Donnell and Chris Cloete to start at openside flanker.

Leinster continued their winning streak with another good win over an admittedly awful Ulster side to finish the curtailed regular season with a 100% record. It was good to see young players like Ciaran Frawley, Harry Byrne, Will Connors and Ed Byrne put their hands up for selection. It gave coach Leo Cullen some difficult decisions and though he has opted for most of the team that started against Munster two weeks ago, there are three notable changes. Devin Toner's lineout expertise gets him the start in the second row with Ryan Baird demoted to the bench. In the back row Will Connors is selected at openside and Josh van der Flier has to settle for a spot in the replacements. It's tough on van der Flier who has done little wrong, but Connors has been in incredible form and deserves his chance. The final selection change is the back three, where Dave Kearney's injury looked to have opened the door for a farewell run at fullback for his brother Rob. However Hugo Keenan has been chosen on the right wing instead and Jordan Larmour retains the full back slot. Larmour struggled in the air against Conor Murray's box kicks and they'll target him again so it's a risk but Cullen is backing the man for the future. Once again there is no Tadhg Furlong in the squad and the short-term signing of former Munster tighthead prop Ciaran Parker makes you think Furlong's back injury could be more problematic than first thought.

Munster will have taken a lot of confidence from the way they came back at Leinster in the match two weeks ago. They will also be delighted to see referee Andrew Brace again as he penalised Leinster a lot more at the breakdown in that match. Since rugby has returned two weeks ago with referees instructed to be tougher at the breakdown, it's become genuinely confusing to discern what a breakdown penalty is anymore. Sometimes players go off their feet at the ruck and it's a penalty and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes players jackal the ball without supporting their weight (a CJ Stander speciality) and they win a penalty and sometimes they're penalised. Hopefully Leinster have worked on the video footage from two weeks ago to give the best possible picture to the referee. The lineout and the wide defence will also need to improve big time from that day.

Though Munster will come out with confidence, Leinster should improve and have enough in the pack to grind Munster down to earn a place in the final.

Finally Leinster said goodbye to one of their most loyal travelling fans this week. Eric Pelly passed away in his sleep on Monday after a long, brave fight with illness. If you traveled regularly to Leinster away matches in the last fifteen years, there's a decent chance you had a chat, pint or a smoke with Eric at some point. Though he lived most of his adult life in England and had a cockney accent that would make Del Boy blush, Eric was born in Ireland and never lost touch with his Irish roots. Traveling with his father Eric senior, brother Conor and his good friend Ross, Eric was a fixture on the away Leinster circuit from the early days to the glory years. Gregarious, funny and generous, Eric was never far from the party before and after the match. Even in recent years when his health issues made travel more difficult he still managed to get to the big games to support his beloved Blues. He was a larger than life character and he will be missed. Everyone at Leinsterfans sends our condolences to Eric's family and many friends.

Hopefully Leinster can pay a nice tribute to Eric tomorrow by beating Munster again.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Munster Rugby
Teams Jordan Larmour 15 Shane Daly
Hugo Keenan 14 Andrew Conway
Garry Ringrose 13 Chris Farrell
Robbie Henshaw 12 Damian de Allende
James Lowe 11 Keith Earls
Johnny Sexton (C) 10 JJ Hanrahan
Luke McGrath 9 Conor Murray

Cian Healy 1 Jeremy Loughman
Ronan Kelleher 2 Niall Scannell
Andrew Porter 3 Stephen Archer
Devin Toner 4 Tadhg Beirne
Scott Fardy
5 Billy Holland
Caelan Doris 6 Peter O'Mahony (C)
Will Connors 7 Tommy O'Donnell
Jack Conan 8 CJ Stander

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Kevin O'Byrne
Ed Byrne 17 James Cronin
Michael Bent 18 John Ryan
Ryan Baird 19 Fineen Wycherley
Josh van der Flier 20 Chris Cloete
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Craig Casey
Ross Byrne 22 Rory Scannell
Rory O'Loughlin 23 Mike Haley

Not Considered
due to Injury
James Ryan,
Fergus McFadden,
Dan Leavy,
Vakh Abdaladze,
Conor O'Brien,
Peter Dooley,
Adam Byrne,
Dave Kearney,
Tadhg Furlong

RG Snyman,
Dave Kilcoyne,
Jean Kleyn,
Joey Carbery,
Dan Goggin,
Roman Salanoa
Officials Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU),
Assistant referees: George Clancy (IRFU), Sean Gallagher (IRFU),
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2020-09-03