With 238 appearances under his belt in 16 seasons with the province, Gordon D’Arcy is fully aware of the significance that the rivalry between Leinster and Munster continues to hold.
Though some question whether it still captures the imagination of the public, experience has shown D’Arcy how important it is to set a benchmark against their biggest rivals.
“I’ve the benefit of experience, 16 seasons of this game. Before I ever knew the intensity of these games, Keith Wood turned me inside out in my first game. A hooker turning a full-back inside out. That was because I wasn’t ready for the intensity of this level,” D’Arcy remarked, ahead of the weekend clash with the Red Army.
“We’d played a few games and then suddenly there’s Munster and there’s a huge spike. Now this is back in 1998 or 1999. That was a huge learning curve for me. And I told myself that I would never let that happen to me again. I told myself that I would never go into a match against Munster and not be absolutely ready for it.
“But this week there might as well be no other competitions being played. It’s all about red playing blue. We have it at home, in the Aviva, and we have an obligation to the fans to live up to their expectation as well as our own.”
While only time will tell who Joe Schmidt’s preferred option at outside centre will be for Ireland, D’Arcy has now become a viable No 13 alternative at provincial level.
D’Arcy is more than happy to accommodate under these circumstances, and as his performance in Leinster’s bonus-point victory over Cardiff Blues would suggest, getting game time is always his number one priority.
“It’s a number at this stage. Matt [O’Connor] summed up by saying I’ll play where I’m told. I’m just happy to be playing. It was fine defensively, I like defending. It’s a bit of a different mentality compared to 12, you have to keep the peripheral in your mid. At 12, you can have tunnel vision.
“It’s not something I think too much about. I’ve turned myself into, I hope, a reasonably good 12. But even back then [2004, when he last featured regularly at 13], it was always about what was best for the team. I’ve a great relationship with the two coaches. They talk to me quite regularly, tell me what to do and how to do it,” D’Arcy added.
Because of the mixed start both teams have made to their campaigns, there will be more than bragging rights at stake in the Aviva on Saturday.
The long-term absence of lock Donnacha Ryan is a massive loss to Anthony Foley as he continues to find his feet as Munster coach, but for their third competitive home encounter of the new season, the Blues have had to contend with a lengthy injury list.
Cian Healy’s hamstring operation has made him the most recent addition to the treatment table, while Blues skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy also provided an update on when the likes of Sean O’Brien, Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney can be expected back in action.
“Cian has had an operation on his hamstring. He’s going to be out for a considerable time. Sean O’Brien is recovering well from that ankle but we’re not sure on a return to play date,” Murphy revealed.
“Luke Fitzgerald is back in and is increasing his training load this week. So we’re looking at the possibility over the next two to three weeks for him being back on the pitch.
“Dave Kearney is long-term, he’ll be November. Richardt Strauss is back in full training with a view to getting game time. Mike McCarthy is fine. Zane Kirchner is looking to be back on the pitch with a view to being available possibly this weekend, definitely the following week.”