Leinster v Munster – the All-Irish Final.
We have barely caught our breath in Ireland. We have been visited by Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama over the past two weeks. Both were welcome guests to our shores. Sandwiched between our two visitors, rugby fans all over the world watched an epic Heineken Cup Final which saw Leinster overcome a 16 point half time deficit. It’s been a fantastic few weeks and there is still more to look forward to this Saturday in Thomond Park in Limerick, Leinster meet Munster in the Magners League Grand Final in an all Irish affair.
Leinster, fresh from their impressive comeback against Northampton will go into the game as firm favourites. They will be without centre Gordon D’arcy who has not recovered from an ankle injury he picked up during last week’s game. Fergus McFadden will fill the number 12 jersey. Scrum half Isaac Boss is also a slight doubt but is expected to recover. Saturday’s game marks the end of the club season and it is befitting to see the reining Magners League Champions take on the newly crowned European Champions.
Leinster have prevented Munster from scoring a try against them for over 400 minutes. On the last occassion the two sides met, Munster were victorious by a single point in Thomond Park on April 2nd, thanks to the boot of outhalf Ronan O’Gara. No doubt the Irish international will play a key role in Munster’s attempts to retain their title. Much has been said of the competitive rivalry between Leinster’s Sexton and Munster’s O’Gara. Saturday’s match will bring another chance for everyone to decide who they believe should start for Ireland in the upcoming World Cup. Sexton’s outstanding second half display last Saturday will have done his chances of starting for Ireland in the World Cup no harm at all. The Leinster outhalf scored an incredible 28 points against Northampton in the Heineken Cup Final.
It will be interesting to watch both Leinster’s and Munster’s lineout plays. Against Northampton, Leinster only called shortened lineouts and moved the ball off the top to the scrum half. They did this so as not to engage in mauling with the Saints and also to keep a high tempo to the game. Leinster hooker Strauss threw well last week and has done all season. He has been one of Leinster’s star players this year and it is good news for the provence that he is staying for at least another two seasons. The roof of the Millennium Stadium was closed for last week’s Heineken Cup Final so the hookers and kickers did not have to contend with any wind. There are not many excuses a hooker can use if he throws a crooked lineout indoors! This weekend will be different. The weather forecast is predicting wind and rain.
Munster’s hooker Varley will surely be pushing for a world cup spot should the injured Flannery not make it back in time. Varley may try to impress upon Ireland Coach Declan Kidney, his rapport with Munster and Irish second rows, O’Callaghan and O’Connell. Therein lies another interesting and inevitable battle. Leo Cullen has been heroic for Leinster not only this season but for years. The Leinster captain showed great awareness in calling his team’s lineout attack and defense against the Saints. It is always very reassuring for a hooker to have a real lineout leader calling the plays. Cullen inspires confidence in hooker Strauss and the rest of his Leinster team mates. The result is Leinster’s highly effective lineout.
Munster’s lineout is a potent weapon itself. O’Callaghan and O’Connell have been the foundation of the Munster and Irish pack for many seasons. Both men have been magnificent servants to both club and country. Each of them may see the upcoming world cup in New Zealand as their last, as will Cullen more than likely. These guys will not give an inch against each other on Saturday. The lineouts are going to be an extremely important source of possession for each team this weekend. We will undoubtedly see an array of different calls, movements and throws as both packs try to outfox each other. Cullen will be calling lineouts against O’Connell’s defense and vice versa. It will be very intriguing to see who wins this battle.
There is a strong sense of belief within the Leinster camp these days. The squad sense that they are on the cusp of a truly historical achievement. No team has ever won the Magners League and the Heineken Cup in the same year. In a soccer context, it’s like winning the English Premiership and the Champions League in the same year. Manchester Untied, Barcelona and Leinster all have the chance on Saturday to win their respective “doubles”. United and Barca have already won their domestic leagues and face off in a potentially enthralling Champions League final on the same day as Leinster face Munster for their domestic title. An explosive day of sports lies in store. The season is almost over……for a month.
Leinster v Munster – enjoy!
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com #busy