A sold-out Aviva Stadium on Saturday will host the top two tier sides in the RaboDirect Pro 12 league, Leinster versus Munster. An eagerly anticipated match-up of the rugby calendar year, with pundits split between who will win. While betting on Munster would not be considered a unreasonable decision. Rob Penney’s Munster side so far have won 14/17 matches, the most in the league, and only sit second due to an inferior bonus points difference.
Leinster would be this pundit’s choice for several reasons. Firstly, home advantage. Technically the Aviva is not Leinster’s native ground, but the majority of the support will be in their favour. Previous results between the two indicates the home sides tend to win, with of course a few exceptions. In the reverse fixture back in October, Munster were victors with a narrow 19-15 win. The first couple of months of the 2013/14 season were a short transition period for Leinster, as the boys in blue were coping with a new fly-half starting instead of their once prized asset, Jonny Sexton. Since the loss Saturday’s hosts have gone from strength to strength, only losing once in the league and the Heineken Cup. The home side have not lost at home yet this season in the league. Since the start of 2014, Leinster are averaging 4 tries a game at home. Northampton Saints are the only side so far to accomplish a victory on Leinster turf. Their stats are solid with Jimmy Gopperth fifth on successful conversions and penalties in the Rabo.
Gopperth’s arrival was a massive coup. For followers of the Aviva Premiership, the ex-Newcastle Falcons star gave 3 years of world class rugby to a lowly Falcons side. Already within his debut season, Gopperth has exceeded expectations. In fact he has outshone Sexton’s understudy Ian Madigan on numerous occasions.
Munster play a different style to Leinster, with an emphasis on keeping the ball and unleashing the backs after the forwards set-up the position. Forwards Coach, Jono Gibbes, knows this, stating “There’s always a real level to those games, a real intensity. (Munster) know slowing our tempo down is a big thing and we know what they’re going to do.” However, Leinster appear to have rediscovered the quick counter attack rugby style which has been so successful in the past. Alongside their aggressive defensive structure, Les Bleus are the most formidable team in the league.
Leinster’s backs and bench are more innovative than Munster. Lote Tuquiri, Zane Kirchner, Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, as well as the aforementioned Madigan and Gopperth. Not forgetting Brian O’ Driscoll. Luke Fitzgerald’s timely return is a major boost. Unfortunate to miss out on the Six Nations with an abdominal strain, he provides added attacking threat to an already firing backline.
For both teams this is a great workout before the Heineken Cup quarter final berths next week. Both sides will most definitely want a win to help secure a home semi-final in the Rabo. Their forms are impeccable. Many are critical of the level of intensity in this league, due to no threat of relegation. While the criticism may be true Leinster and Munster are one of the few games in the league calendar to deliver a must watch match.
Dominic Evans, Pundit Arena.