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Leinster Rugby vs Munster Rugby
Pro 14 Semi-final
RDS Arena, Ballsbridge
Saturday, 18th April 2019, 14:30

TV: Live on Eir Sports

Well I suppose we had to lose an European final eventually.

Saracens deserved to win the match but it wasn't an inevitable a win as some in the media reported afterwards. There is a tendency towards self-flagellation and despondency in the Irish sports media which especially comes to fore when Irish teams lose to big English packs. "They're just too big, how can us puny Irish even hope to compete?" is the general gist of it." And yet Leinster did compete, taking the lead and keeping Saracens scoreless for most of the first half.

It was a few poor decisions either side of half-time that killed Leinster. Luke McGrath's ill advised box kick when he should really have put it out, Jordan Larmour's decision to come in off his wing for their first try and Garry Ringrose's failure to pass with numbers outside him effectively made for a 14-point swing and gave the momentum back to Saracens. And once Saracens got the lead they simply strangled the life out of Leinster.

But that's how finals go, you have to take your chances, but the point is there was chances to take and this was not as one-sided a game as some are making out. Leinster can and will beat Saracens in the future but they know the performance needs to be almost perfect and if we're honest there was too many costly errors last week. Leinster weren't good enough but they can be again. They're not being helped however by the IRFU's policy of re-distributing Leinster's depth to the other provinces which left the bench looking not all that great last week.

But Leinster need to quickly move on as they need to beat Munster at this RDS this Saturday. Having lost in the final last week, it would make for a totally depressing summer if they lost a semi-final at the RDS to their bitterest rivals. Munster however will be just as desperate for a win to salvage something from their season. They will have not being helped by two of their coaches Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery making a shock announcement two weeks ago that they would be leaving their posts at the end of the season. Their reasons for leaving haven't been stated as yet but there are plenty of whispers going around. It can't have made for a happy camp this week and their performance last time out against Benetton was very poor and they were fortunate to win.

Munster are boosted by the return of Joey Carbery and Keith Earls from injury for tomorrow's match. However, the most eye-opening selection is CJ Stander at openside flanker. Stander has mainly played at six or eight in his time in Ireland but filled in during the Six Nations at seven. This allows Arno Botha to comes into the XV at number eight to add another physical presence. Captain Peter O'Mahony, who was almost completely anonymous against Benetton, forms the back row with Stander and Botha. Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan form the front row with Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne behind them. In the backline Earls makes up the back three with Mike Haley and Andrew Conway, while Chris Farrell and Rory Scannell are the midfield pairing. Conor Murray is at scrum-half alongside Carbery.

For Leinster, Leo Cullen has made four changes from the Champions Cup final. Ross Byrne starts at number 10, as he did in last year's semi-final, but this time Jonathan Sexton is named among the replacements. Dave Kearney comes in on the right wing with Jordan Larmour shifting to fullback in the other change to the backline as Rob Kearney drops out of the squad. In the pack Rhys Ruddock comes in to captain the side from blindside flank with Scott Fardy dropping to the bench. The final change sees Josh van der Flier return from injury at openside flanker to deny Sean O'Brien a final chance to play for Leinster at the RDS.

This is possibly the biggest Pro14 meeting ever between the two sides and following the fractious encounter down in Thomond Park at Christmas, no quarter will be given. Munster have gone for their biggest pack possible but if Leinster keep this discipline this time, they should hopefully have just enough to see off Munster.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Munster Rugby
Teams Jordan Larmour 15 Mike Haley
Dave Kearney
14 Andrew Conway
Garry Ringrose
13 Chris Farrell
Robbie Henshaw 12 Rory Scannell
James Lowe 11 Keith Earls
Ross Byrne
10 Joey Carbery
Luke McGrath 9 Conor Murray

Cian Healy 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Sean Cronin 2 Niall Scannell
Tadhg Furlong 3 John Ryan
Devin Toner 4 Jean Kleyn
James Ryan 5 Tadhg Beirne
Rhys Ruddock (C)
6 Peter O'Mahony (C)
Josh van der Flyer
7 CJ Stander
Jack Conan 8 Arno Botha

Replacements Bryan Byrne
16 Kevin O'Byrne
Ed Byrne 17 Liam O'Connor
Andrew Porter
18 Stephen Archer
Scott Fardy 19 Billy Holland
Max Deegan 20
Jack O'Donoghue
Nick McCarthy
21 Alby Mathewson
Johnny Sexton
22 JJ Hanrahan
Rory O'Loughlin 23 Dan Goggin

Not Considered
due to Injury
Dan Leavy,
Mick Kearney,
Adam Byrne,
Ross Molony

Rhys Marshall,
Tommy O'Donnell,
Chris Cloete,
James Cronin
Officials Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU),
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (SRU), Keith Allen (SRU),
TMO: Neil Patterson (SRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2019-05-18