Three things to look out for in Irish rugby’s biggest game, Munster v Leinster
The biggest fixture in Irish rugby has its first outing tomorrow night at Thomond Park when international colleagues become club rivals.
Third in the table Munster host a Leinster side one place below them and both coaches have named strong teams with a raft of internationals back in the fold ahead of the opening fixtures of the Heineken Cup campaign next weekend.
Thomond will hold little fear for Matt O’Connor’s men as they have won the last two fixtures in Limerick and are going for a third successive victory on Munster soil for the first time since 1971.
Here are three things to watch out for in what promises to be a ferocious battle.
A Lote of pressure without BOD
A calf strain picked up in training has meant that Brian O'Driscoll is touch and go for the Heineken opener and misses out on perhaps his final chance of playing at Thomond Park in Leinster colours. After an excellent outing against Cardiff at the RDS, he will have been itching to take on Munster, but his jersey will now go to Lote Tuqiri, who himself picked up an injury against Glasgow on his debut.
He will form a new midfield partnership with Gordon D’Arcy, and with Casey Laulala and James Downey in opposition, there will be no shortage of experience between the four men.
We wouldn’t expect anything flash in midfield, but Tuqiri has the potential to put the Munster defence on the back foot.
Expansive back play?
It has been well documented that Rob Penney has been attempting to implement an expansive attacking strategy once parity up front has been achieved, while the Leinster mantra under Matt O’Connor is unlikely to change from Joe Schmidt’s offensive strategy.
The selection of Felix Jones, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo make up a very impressive Irish threesome, while on the other side the Kearney brothers and Fergus McFadden will ask plenty of questions of the Munster defensive strategy.
These games are often forward dominated, but should the ball make its way further out the field, we could be in for a real treat.
Half-back battle royale
In Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan, Leinster possess arguably the most potent half back partnership in the PRO12, and with Jimmy Gopperth making an impressive start in a blue jersey and Isaac Boss also in reserve, the options are plentiful.
For Rob Penney, Conor Murray returns for a place on the bench as Duncan Williams and the coach has heaped praise all week on Ian Keatley as he held off the challenge of JJ Hanrahan for the pivotal position.
Keatley and Madigan bring very different qualities to the table but with many of the these games hinging on such fine margins, the two 10s could have the biggest influence on proceedings.