‘STAND Up and Fight’ may be Munster’s rallying cry but it is one that has to all intents and purposes been adopted this week by a Leinster side hoping to vent its early-season frustrations on the provincial cousins.
Shane Horgan led the calls to arms last Monday by challenging his Leinster team-mates to eradicate the individual errors that have plagued the team’s start to the Magners League and Brian O’Driscoll echoed those words at a press briefing yesterday.
“They are the ones who are bringing good form into the fixture,” he said of Munster ahead of tomorrow’s derby at the Aviva Stadium. “We feel we have left a lot of our best rugby behind us in the last few weeks and we have a point to prove as players in that we haven’t become a bad team overnight.
“We just need to do the simple things well, grow into the game and get a little bit of confidence. There is a huge onus to front up individually and then as a team collectively.”
Leinster have been criticised not just for the fact that they have lost three of their opening four games but more so for the manner in which those reversals against Glasgow Warriors, Benetton Treviso and Edinburgh have come about.
Sloppy tackling, lethargic ball carrying and careless passing have all been singled out at one stage or another and the gloves have started to come off in the stands and press boxes as patience begins to wear thin.
With two rounds of Heineken Cup fixtures to follow in what is, like Munster’s, an horrendously difficult group, Leinster badly need to draw a line in the sand and discover the sort of form that delivered Magners League and European titles in recent years.
The advent last season of play-offs in the Magners has somewhat diluted the impact of their poor start – Munster made the semi-finals on the back of nine defeats last May after all – so in one respect it could almost be said that the season starts tomorrow.
“Well, I guess the season has started. That has happened,” countered Leinster coach Joe Schmidt.
“For us, it would be nice to get continuity and I know for these three games, if we can avoid injury, we will get some in selection and that might just give us a little bit more help in trying to get cohesive on the field.”
For a change, both sides will be operating without the handbrake on thanks to the absence of any restrictions on who can and cannot play and for how long under the IRFU’s rotation policy and the fare on offer should prosper as a result.
Schmidt will wait until today’s captain’s run before deciding on whether or not Jonathan Sexton’s quad injury has healed sufficiently for the out-half to make his first appearance of the season. The player has returned to training, however, and the prognosis is good.
Definitely out are forwards Shane Jennings and John Fogarty. The former Leicester flanker was already standing in for club captain Leo Cullen meaning the armband has been passed on to Jamie Heaslip for the first time.
The absence of Jennings has at least opened the door for the inexperienced Dominic Ryan who has just four Magners League games under his belt and is named in the back row alongside Sean O’Brien and Heaslip.
“He brings a bit of an edge,” said Schmidt of the 20-year old. “He’s got a good, athletic frame and he’s keen to do the extras, to work hard. He did a little bit extra today just to make sure he’s going to be in the right place at the right time.
“He’s up against a back row that probably boasts about 500 Munster caps so it’s not like it’s going to be an easy task for him but his positive frame of mind is impressive for a young man who knows it’s going to be certainly the biggest game he’s participated in.”
The other main selection issue of note is the decision to opt for Isaac Boss at scrum-half ahead of Eoin Reddan with the former Ulster man’s greater amount of game time and exposure to the new realities at ruck time advanced by way of explanation.
Most of the components are in place, then, the stage awaits.
As a New Zealander who has spent three seasons in France with Clermont Auvergne, Schmidt hardly needs a crash course in the niceties of rugby derbies but he braced himself for the weekend’s events with a quick call to Michael Cheika 10 days ago.
Some things he didn’t need to be told. “It’s a relatively easy week for the coach,’’ he said. “Even Tony McGahan would say the players very much control their own destiny leading up to a match like this. The motivation is there because it’s a natural derby where players are motivated to combat their brothers-in-arms.”
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