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Munster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Pro 14 Round 9
Thomond Park, Limerick

Saturday, 28th December 2019, 18:00

TV: Live on Eir Sports

Leinster's pre-Christmas win over Ulster certainly didn't lack for entertainment.

14 tries were shared between the two teams. Leo Cullen will have been shouting "Humbug" all week in training though. Leinster had the game comfortably won when they scored their seventh try of the match to lead 47-14 on the 48th minute. Yet they were only to score one more try and also conceded another four in a sloppy and undisciplined last quarter. A big part of Leinster's 100% win record this season is maintaining high standards even when the game is won. Some harsh words would have been spoken this week to some young players, but it will hopefully be to their long-term benefit.

That 100% win record will face it's sternest test in Thomond Park tomorrow evening. Munster are top of their Pro14 pool and have been going along pretty well in the league. Europe has been a lot tougher though although they are admittedly in a very difficult group. A scrappy win over the hopeless Ospreys was followed by an entertaining home draw against Racing with JJ Hanrahan missing a drop goal to win it at the death. With Saracens fielding an under-strength team in the third game, it was a chance to potentially end the relegation threatened Champion's interest in the tournament.

Howeverthe conditions made rugby almost impossible in the second half and Saracens were allowed to leave Thomond with a losing bonus point. In the return match Munster were actually holding a much stronger Saracens side well but there was another crucial miss from the boot of Hanrahan which would have given them a 9-3 lead. Then there was a bizarre spectacle of a 28 man shoving match that was sparked by a Munster doctor going all "Mean Girl" on poor old Jamie George's ample figure. Unfortunately this sparked Sarries into life and they took a 15-6 lead off two tries. However Munster had the chance to take something when awarded a kickable penalty five minutes from time. However CJ Stander made the odd decision to kick for touch instead and the chance was gone. That missed point could well come back to haunt them.

Munster bounced back well last weekend, sending a young team to Connacht and winning in difficult conditions. Munster have nine changes altogether from the team that defeated Connacht, including a couple of positional switches. Mike Haley comes in at full back and Shane Daly switches out to the left wing. Sammy Arnold and Rory Scannell come in to form a new midfield so Dan Goggin moves out to the right wing. JJ Hanrahan stays at out-half and this week former Leinster player Nick McCarthy is chosen as his half-back partner.

There are less changes in the pack with second row Fineen Wycherley and back rows Tommy O'Donnell and Jack O'Donoghue coming in to start. Two more former Leinster players Jeremy Loughman and Joey Carbery have recovered from injury to be named on the bench.

Cullen has made twelve changes to the Leinster side including two positional switches. Hugo Keenan, Adam Byrne and James Lowe come in to form a new back three. The O'Brien (non) brothers Jimmy and Conor are in the centre and with their (non) triplet Tommy on the bench, hopefully they'll all be on the pitch at some point to confuse the hell out of the commentators. Ross Byrne is back to replace his (actual) brother Harry at out-half. With Harry having put in a man of the match performance last week, Ross will be keen to restate his credentials. He is partnered by scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, the only back to retain their starting place from last week.

Ed Byrne and James Tracy come in to join Andrew Porter in the front row and Devin Toner is named at lock alongside skipper Scott Fardy. Josh Murphy moves from second row to blindside flanker and Will Connors shifts across to the open-side. Caelan Doris comes in to replace Max Deegan at number eight.

Of course you'll have the usual whingers moaning that the top internationals from both sides aren't playing. But last year you had two near full strength sides named and it was a crap game ruined by Leinster's indiscipline. Both the team's have named decent sides with plenty of young players bolstered by some experience in key areas. It should make for a good, competitive game and Leinster might just be able to edge it.

Leinster Rugby (caps in brackets):

15. Hugo Keenan (11) 14. Adam Byrne (56) 13. Jimmy O'Brien (13) 12. Conor O'Brien (21) 11. James Lowe (38) 10. Ross Byrne (81) 9. Jamison Gibson-Park (82)

1. Ed Byrne (50) 2. James Tracy (103) 3. Andrew Porter (59) 4. Devin Toner (241) 5. Scott Fardy (53) CAPTAIN 6. Josh Murphy (29) 7. Will Connors (11) 8. Caelan Doris (25)

Replacements: 16. Sean Cronin (174) 17. Peter Dooley (69) 18. Jack Aungier (2) 19. Ross Molony (89) 20. Scott Penny (10) 21. Rowan Osborne (2) 22. Ciarán Frawley (18) 23. Tommy O'Brien (1)

Not considered due to injury: Dan Leavy, Barry Daly, Jack Conan, Vakh Abdaladze, Rory O'Loughlin, Ronan Kelleher, Johnny Sexton, Joe Tomane

Munster Rugby

15. Mike Haley 14. Dan Goggin 13. Sammy Arnold 12. Rory Scannell 11. Shane Daly 10. JJ Hanrahan 9. Nick McCarthy

1. Dave Kilcoyne 2. Kevin O'Byrne 3. Stephen Archer 4. Fineen Wycherley 5. Billy Holland (capt) 6. Tommy O'Donnell 7. Chris Cloete 8. Jack O'Donoghue

Replacements: 16. Diarmuid Barron 17. Jeremy Loughman 18. Keynan Knox 19. Darren O'Shea 20. Jack O'Sullivan 21. Neil Cronin 22. Joey Carbery 23. Calvin Nash

Not considered due to injury: Tadhg Beirne, John Ryan, Rhys Marshall, Tyler Bleyendaal, Ciaran Parker, Darren Sweetnam

Referee: Frank Murphy

AR1: George Clancy (IRFU) AR2: Chris Busby (IRFU)

TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2019-12-27