Both teams showed signs of recovery in the last round of the European Champions Cup, and, while both suffered losses, there were more plusses than minuses to be gleaned from their post-match catch-up this week.
Simon Zebo assertion is that despite Munster’s travails domestically and in Europe they are “one pass or one off-load away from ripping a team apart”.
The Christmas period also offers Ireland coach Joe Schmidt the opportunity to cast his eye over potentials for camp next month, and he may have had some influence in Ian Madigan being picked at out-half and the first-time pairing of Luke Fitzgerald and Garry Ringrose in the centre.
MunXV: Conway; Earls,Saili,Hurley,Zebo; Bleyendaal,Murray;Cronin, Sherry,Botha;Foley,D Ryan; Copeland,O’Donoghue,Stander Capt. #MunVLei— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) December 24, 2015
With Jonny Sexton’s erratic form a worry, it’s up to Madigan to get his backline moving and offer some stable game-management to a team that has seemingly forgotten how to win big games. On top of that a productive Christmas period for Madigan and plenty first team footie may persuade the talented three-quarter to reconsider a potential move to Bordeaux for next season.
Opposite Madigan will be talented Kiwi, Tyler Bleyandaal, who takes over Ian Keatley’s position, the latter omitted from Munster’s 23-man squad. Head coach Anthony Foley did stress on Wednesday that he needs to “manage” his squad so Munster faithful can expect plenty rotation over the festive period.
The return of Tommy O’Donnell to Munster colours offers Foley — and for that matter Schmidt — a welcome boost. The Tipperary native has recovered from a hip injury at least two months ahead of schedule and can offer Munster much-needed help at the breakdown area should it be required. Should he make his return off the bench he’ll be “ground-hogging” with Seán O’Brien, both two very obvious contenders for the Ireland No 7 jersey.
The pairing of the in-form Luke Fitzgerald with Garry Ringrose for the first time is an astute call by Leinster head coach, Leo Cullen. Making only his second appearance in the No 13 shirt, Ringrose has been touted as heir apparent to Brian O’Driscoll.
Sean Cronin marks his 100th appearance for Leinster .
It should be close with both sides badly in need of a confidence-boosting win after the horrors of the last few weeks. Normally both provinces would be coming into a fixture such as this in flying form, but the European climate has certainly changed this season.
“It’s unusual, alright,” admitted Foley this week. “I have looked very closely at Leinster over the last number of weeks. I would have had the same feeling for them, as I would for us in terms of their performances aren’t being seen in their results. They are a very good side at the wrong end of it as well through this period. But from our own point of view we have got to look after our own business and make sure that we get our performance right and hope that that can lead to a result.
“I think the review (on Tuesday) was a tough day or a lot of fellas. We’ve looked a lot at Leinster and looked at putting a plan together for that game. Hopefully out there (in training) it looked pretty good. We’ve trained pretty well; the boys had a lot of enthusiasm, good work rate. As I said earlier fellas are doing more than I thought they would do today. Everyone is keen for this game against Leinster and I’m sure that’s the same in their camp.”
A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley, S Zebo; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; J Cronin, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D Foley, D Ryan; R Copeland, J O’Donoghue, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, J Ryan, B Holland, T O’Donnell, T O’Leary, R Scannell, L Gonzalez Amorosino
Z Kirchner; F McFadden, G Ringrose, L Fitzgerald, I Nacewa (capt); I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, T Denton; D Ryan, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: J Tracy, C Healy, M Moore, R Molony, J van der Flier, N McCarthy, C Marsh, D Kearney
David Wilkinson (IRFU)