PREVIEW: Leinster v Munster
PRO14 SEMIFINAL: If you wondered if the heat had cooled from this age-old rivalry then the present day's affair should prove the folly in that argument.
Coming off their fourth European Cup title Leinster now aim to complete a double by winning the Pro14 while Munster are desperate to claim their first silverware since 2011 having lost two domestic finals in the past four years.
In Leinster their former players spoke of how Munster’s European success sparked a drive within the blue province to be better, more consistent and to claim trophies at home and abroad.
Since 2008, the year Munster won their last European Cup, Leinster have won the Championship three times and triumphed in Europe four times, five if you include their Challenge Cup win in 2013.
Doubtless, Munster take little joy about fuelling Leinster’s ambition – and success – and Saturday's encounter provides the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls, Conor Murray and CJ Stander with the opportunity to take on Europe’s best and claim a scalp of their own.
Scarlets’ semifinal win in Dublin last season was the first for an away team in the Championship knock-out stages so history will provide no barrier to the men in red.
Energy supplies may also be on their side having had two weeks lead-in to prepare whilst Leinster were busy in Bilbao dealing with an incredibly physical Racing 92 team.
Munster captain O’Mahony knows this Leinster team better than most having faced the province many times over the years with a number of the Leinster players Ireland teammates of O’Mahony.
"It’s gonna be hard, probably the hardest game we play all year, but it has to be our best performance," O’Mahony told munsterrugby.ie. "Surely that’s what you want to do as a professional rugby player, any professional athlete, you want to challenge yourself against the best.
"We’ll be talking about our performance and what we have to do to go out and win. I don’t want people saying after the weekend: ‘ah, Munster to be fair aren’t far off Leinster’. That’s not what I want.
"If we play well, I want people saying Munster played well, that’s what I want to hear. I don’t want to hear: ‘they’re close enough’.
"Leinster, what they’ve done for the last 12-18 months, we’re not going to change that in a game. That’s the standard they have. We’ve all got to strive to try and get there.
"You’re going to get the best of Leinster at the weekend and they’ll show that’s their standard. It’s a semifinal for them at the end of the day, they’ll be ready to go, whatever it takes."
After their Champions Cup victory, Leinster coach Leo Cullen said he believes Munster's extra rest period might be a factor.
"Munster, with the prep they’ll have had, they’ll have got the edge," said Cullen, the only player to have captained three winning sides, and now the only man to have won the European Cup both as a player and as a coach.
"They're up and running, thinking about Leinster and watching the game [Champions Cup Final] on Saturday, probably having a plan in place - 'If that was our plan against Leinster, what would it look like, etc," Cullen told irishmirror.ie.
"[The off weekend] gives them a huge advantage," he added.
Overall Pro14 head to head record:
Played 33, Leinster won 20, Munster won 13.
Prediction: Following Leinster’s impressive victory in the European Champions Cup final last weekend they are still on target to become the first side to achieve a Pro14/European Cup double in the same season. Leinster have played in eight previous Celtic League/PRO Rugby semifinals with their only defeat being last season to Scarlets (the only home semifinal defeat in Championship history). Leinster’s only victory in the last five rounds of the pro14 was 41-6 at home to Zebre in Round 19. The Leinstermen lost 15-17 to Benetton Rugby at the RDS Arena in Round 20, their first home defeat in the Championship since last season’s semifinal, whilst they have never lost successive games at the venue. Leinster have lost only twice at the RDS Arena to a fellow Irish province – to Munster in September 2008 and Ulster in March 2013. Munster have played in eight previous Championship semifinals, winning five and losing three, the three defeats all being in their only three away semifinals. Munster have not been defeated in the Pro14 since they visited Edinburgh on March 16. Overall the two provinces have met on 153 occasions since their first fixture in March 1877, with Leinster having the edge by 95 to 47 with eleven games drawn. Leinster have won both Pro14 encounters this season. Munster’s only previous victory at the RDS Arena was 18-0 on September 28, 2008, whilst their only victory over Leinster since then in Dublin was 34-23 at Aviva Stadium in October 2014. Leinster will take this one by five points.
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Isa Nacewa (captain), 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Rory O’Loughlin, 23 Barry Daly.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jack O’Donoghue, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Date: Saturday, May 19
Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin
Kick-off: 15.15 (14.15 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be partly sunny and breezy in the afternoon with a high of 19°C and a low of 10°C.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse, Mike Adamson (Scotland)
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Source: @PRO14Official, munsterrugby.ie & irishmirror.ie