Don’t try telling John Fogarty that Leinster’s rivalry with Munster isn’t all it once was.
Not unless you have time to spare and feel fully braced for a lengthy and impassioned speech stretching to over 500 words and one with a couple of f-bombs chucked in just in case anyone doubted him.
Still, it was a question that needed to be asked.
Leo Cullen and Rassie Erasmus had spoken about next Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 encounter at Monday’s Champions Cup launch in Dublin and, try as they might to talk it up, they couldn’t help but feed into the sense of a relationship that isn’t as edgy as in previous times.
Both coaches discussed the game in relation to its worth as preparation for their respective European appointments, while Erasmus has already hinted that Munster’s selection will be compromised by the follow-up fixtures away to Castres and at home to Racing 92.
None of that is new and yet there is no denying the enduring attraction of a fixture that has actually thrown up few memorable encounters of late, given Leinster have now sold well over 40,000 tickets for the latest installment.
“It’s funny, where it sits in the season makes it a hugely important fixture,” said Fogarty. “Everyone has Europe the week after. Before we went to South Africa, I said how important it was to get preparation right, because Europe was coming and it’s all built in to it.
“So, in a way, it’s part of preparing for Europe, but I don’t agree [that the rivalry is diluted]. It’s still a fixture that’s a bit more important in the season. It’s still so important to our lads. If you watch how they prep, if you see the focus in them this week, they’re not thinking about Montpellier. It’s important, but they’re not thinking about that at all. They’re not thinking about how they need to be fit for Montpellier, they’re thinking about what it is to play in the Aviva. There are 45,000 tickets sold and we deeply understand how important it is to supporters.”
Fogarty, like Cullen the day before, referenced the fact that last year’s provincial meeting at the Aviva Stadium, proved to be Anthony Foley’s last game before his premature passing in Paris the following weekend.
A former hooker who wore the red and the blue, Fogarty sat down a few days ago to watch a few clips of the meetings between the two last year and the effect was like a shot of adrenalin. He’s pumped and he expects everyone else to be, too.
“They’ve been going well. Rassie is leaving, they’ll be playing hard for him. There’s so much that goes into it, so much in the minds of the players and so much history between the clubs that for us within these walls it’s a very special game. However, it does sit in front of Europe.
“If we’re thinking, ‘be fit for Europe’ or if the boys are thinking, ‘I need to be fit for Europe so I get picked for Ireland’, your eye is off the ball and if your eye is off the ball in a Munster-Leinster game you’re going to get your hole handed to you.”
Leinster are working around a lengthy enough injury list, but Isa Nacewa (calf) and Robbie Henshaw (shoulder) both trained yesterday and may play a part this week. Henshaw has not played since touring with the British and Irish Lions.
“Robbie trained today,” said Fogarty. “If you talk about time to prep, it is a big ask to come back in such an intense game. I hope he makes it through the week and, out the back of it, we’ll get to see him. He’s dying to get back and play well.”
Jonathan Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath all came through their season debuts against Edinburgh last Friday without incident, so too Luke McGrath and Fergus McFadden on their returns from injury.
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