Old foes set for for new battle

If this game was a business proposition you probably wouldn’t even need a six-second elevator pitch to sell it.

Leinster v Munster. In a semi-final. And on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon. That’d do it.

There’s more to it than that, of course. Players and coaches talk about bubbles more often than the guy who invented gum but it just isn’t realistic to expect that these two groups of human beings can approach this encounter in any such sort of linear fashion.

Leinster securing their fourth European Cup title last week colours this latest clash of blue and red. So too the fact that Munster softened their cough seven years ago by edging a Magners League final one week after they claimed their second.

Australia will have entered thoughts this week, too. The amateur days of the old ‘Final Trial’ are long beyond us but this is as close as anything in the modern era with well over 30 of those involved here in the running for a trip to Oz next month.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen admitted as much in one breath yesterday before backtracking slightly and expressing a confidence that thoughts of victory here would hold primacy over anything just beyond the horizon.

“I think they just want to represent the team,” said Cullen at a sun-drenched RDS after the side’s captain’s run. 

“I don’t know exactly what goes through their minds but they want to represent the team, more importantly.”

Luke McGrath was toeing the same line.With Kieran Marmion twiddling his thumbs since Connacht’s season fizzled out, the Leinster scrum-half has the opportunity to make a personal point against a Munster side in which Joe Schmidt’s go-to man Conor Murray provides the pivot.

“It is a good time for it to come but it was just important for me to get back from injury,” McGrath said in the wake of his recent ankle issue.

“Obviously last week was a very special weekend, this week playing in a Leinster-Munster game is incredible.

“Australia is put to the back of my mind at the moment, I am only going to get picked there if I play well here and I am looking forward to going up against Conor and that can only make you better.”

But what of the Joey Carbery/Ross Byrne scenario?

Leinster clearly value both – they start at 15 and ten respectively today – but if the IRFU have their way then one of them will be calling Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium home next season.

This could be the last time one of them wears the harp at the RDS.

“They go about their business, they’re good,” said Cullen.

“We just want to focus on the game at the moment and we’ll make some decisions later on in the season, or certainly when we’re not playing games. It’s such a special time at the moment.

“You are playing in play-off games and it doesn’t come around every year, as we have had to experience over the last couple of seasons, so we don’t want to get distracted by any the ifs or buts that are going on around the place at the moment.

“We are just dealing with what is going on in front of our noses, which is playing these big games. Last week was a huge game for the club. We don’t need to get side-tracked by any of these things.”

You can add attack coach Girvan Dempsey and club captain Isa Nacewa to those ‘things’. Both leave the club this summer and, though Cullen confirmed they would be seeking a replacement for both, it clearly isn’t on his radar right now.

Maybe they really can be that focused, that zealous, about the task at hand.


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