Wallace to lead charge

MUNSTER youngsters Conor Murray and Danny Barnes have been given a vote of confidence for today’s Magners League Grand Final against Leinster at Thomond Park.

But the focus will fall on veteran flanker David Wallace who will win his 200th cap and likely lead the men in red out against their arch rivals.

Tony McGahan, the Munster coach, has made just one change from the 23 involved in the recent semi-final victory over current champions the Ospreys, bringing Johne Murphy into the replacements in place of the unlucky Simon Zebo.

It is another huge opportunity for the two relative newcomers, with Murray keeping out veteran Peter Stringer, who in turn forces Tomás O’Leary to the sidelines. Barnes has made a big pitch to cement a regular place in the middle of the field alongside Lifeimi Mafi.

Meanwhile Wallace, playing his 17th game of the season, becomes just the sixth Munster player to reach the 200-cap mark, having made his debut against Connacht in August 1997 alongside Ronan O’Gara.

Newly crowned Heineken Cup champions Leinster have made three changes from the team that started against Northampton in Cardiff last week. Fergus McFadden is named in the centre for the injured Gordon D’Arcy, while Heinke van der Merwe and Shane Jennings both start in the front and back rows respectively.

Cian Healy is rested but will, according to coach Joe Schmidt, be introduced, as will Kevin McLaughlin, who also started last week.

With the biggest northern hemisphere club trophy in the bag, a man from Down Under, South African-born hooker Richardt Strauss wants to finish the season on another high.

“We know (Munster) pretty well, they are a physical side. We have to try and stop their momentum and if we can do that it will be a close game.

“We are a proud squad and are ready to take them on this weekend. We are hungry to win more trophies. We have been well managed all season and the coaching staff looked after us in the run-in to the end of the season, so we are all ready to go.”

Both teams are chasing their third Celtic crown, although history favours Munster on the basis that Leinster have won just once in Limerick since 1995.

Munster are well aware, however, that they have only won one game from the last six and they are also trying to salvage what has been, by their high standards, a season of disappointment.

Although they finished top by 13 points after the 22-game regular league season, a first Heineken Cup pool stage exit since 1998 followed by an Amlin Challenge Cup home semi-final defeat to eventual winners Harlequins has left them in urgent need of a trophy boost.

National pride at stake in Grand Final

LEINSTER’S Heineken Cup victory and Munster’s demise in the European competitions has inevitably led to comparisons between the provinces.

A victory for Leinster will cement their place as Ireland’s greatest ever provincial side while a victory for Munster will give them silverware to consolidate a difficult year. But that’s not all that’s on the line. If Leinster win, they’ll become the first Celtic team to achieve a double. Both teams have won two Magners League titles, while Munster have won their last nine matches in this competition and are chasing a Leinster record of 11 wins in row.

Munster have won all 12 home games in the Magners League this campaign.

In head-to-head encounters Leinster have won 10 and Munster have taken eight in the 18 times they’ve met in the league.

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