Big guns ready for derby showdown

THE big boys are back for Leinster and Munster — most of them at least.

Munster’s Christian Cullen, Shaun Payne and Anthony Horgan have been ruled out, but there’s enough talent to suggest this Magners League clash at Lansdowne Road tonight (7.30pm) will break attendance records.

The bad news for Munster is that they will be without injured their back division trio of Cullen, Horgan and Payne for a longer spell. There was no official news on progress, but it was learned late last night that Horgan will have surgery for slight damage done to knee cartilage. He will be out for up to six weeks.

Cullen still awaits news that might tell him his Munster career is over. However, a scan today or tomorrow might decide otherwise. Payne is less troubled. He is ruled out of tonight’s game, but a bruised hip is not likely to rule him out for long.

Leinster, with six of the seven backs that started the Heineken Cup clash six months ago, and Munster, with five, won’t be second guessing. Leinster will, however, recognise that Munster remain one of the most powerful forward forces in Europe.

Leinster are still smarting from last year’s Heineken Cup semi-final defeat at the same venue and assistant coach Mike Brewer admitted: “We have had some problems up front in the Magners League so far. It’s something we need to get right. Hopefully, the return of Mal (O’Kelly) will help us in that regard.”

Still, even Brewer recognised that the Munster pack will take some beating. “They’re certainly one of the most effective squads in Europe; otherwise they wouldn’t have reached three Heineken Cup finals,” said the former All Black captain.

Brewer will be made more aware of that difficulty following the announcement of the Munster pack. There is hardly a weakness, because Frankie Sheahan is back from injury to replace the injured Jerry Flannery and Marcus Horan has returned to deputise for John Hayes (with Federico Pucciariello moving to tight head). The availability of Alan Quinlan (then injured) for Denis Leamy (who sits on the bench) is an indication that Munster won’t cough up control in the forward battle. But, of course, it will be a battle, particularly with the presence of two Munster forwards, Stephen Keogh and Trevor Hogan, in the starting Leinster line up. Both were in that Munster panel in April.

Keogh was quoted this week as saying; “It will be interesting,” while Munster captain Paul O’Connell and his fellow second row Donncha O’Callaghan will be in no mood to be trifled with by former colleagues. O’Connell was happy after Munster’s victory over Ulster last week in Cork, saying:

“I think everyone knew it was going to be a difficult game in an Irish derby against the champions. It was a first game back in 14 weeks for a number of players and it was nice to see the way guys responded positively to sometimes difficult circumstances.

“It was a significant win for us at this stage of the season; great to get our second win of the campaign, and it does set us up well for this week. It should be very interesting,” he said.

That was no tongue in cheek comment, just the honest type of quote you would expect from a captain of an Irish province, competing in a domestic minefield, these days.

LEINSTER: G. Dempsey; S. Horgan, B. O’Driscoll (capt), G. D’Arcy. D. Hickie; F. Contepomi, C. Whitaker; R. McCormack, H. Vermaas, W. Green; T. Hogan, M. O’Kelly; S. Keogh, J. Heaslip, K. Gleeson.

Replacements: R. Corrigan, B. Blaney, O. Finegan, C. Jowitt, G. Easterby, C. Warner, L. Fitzgerald.

MUNSTER: J. Manning; I. Dowling, J. Kelly, T. Halstead, T. O’Leary; R. O’Gara, P. Stringer; M. Horan, F. Sheahan, F. Pucciariello; D. O’Callaghan, P. O’Connell (capt); A. Quinlan, A. Foley, D. Wallace.

Replacements: A. Kyriacou, T. Ryan, M. O’Driscoll, D. Leamy, T. McGann, B. O’Meara, B. Murphy.

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