Munster welcome Leinster to Thomond Park this St Stephen’s Day in what promises to be a thrilling clash between Ireland’s premier rugby provinces.
While derby day pride is always up for grabs, both sides will be desperate for a win with both sitting in second place in their respective Pro14 conferences. With the Six Nations also on the horizon, players will be making their case for a starting spot against France in the first match-day of the international competition.
With that in mind, we select a combined XV from the provinces.
Rob Kearney has enjoyed a resurgence in the twilight of his career, highlighted by his wonderful performances in the autumn internationals. However, if it were not for his imminent departure to France, Simon Zebo would be Ireland’s first choice full-back. The Munster man is brilliant under the high ball and provides an X-Factor in the attack.
Keith Earls returning from injury is a welcome sight for Munster and Ireland. The Moyross man is Ireland’s first choice winger, combining excellent footwork with brilliant finishing, making for an easy choice.
The other wing spot is a shootout between Isa Nacewa and Andrew Conway. Although Leinster’s captain has continued to be consistently brilliant throughout his career, former Leinster prodigy Conway is on an ever-rising upward curve in his career. Conway makes up an all Munster back three.
Where the back three was all red, the midfield pairing is a blue one, Joe Schmidt’s preferred pairing at international level of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw inside him.
Rory Scannell has made tremendous progress over the past 18 months but is not quite where the Leinster pairing are at the moment. Henshaw does the majority of the heavy work, leaving Ringrose to demonstrate his magical footwork in attack. The most exciting centre-pairing since O’Driscoll and D’arcy.
Ian Keatley has proved the boo boys to be wrong with a series of stunning performances this year, firmly establishing himself as Munster’s out-half.
Luke McGrath is now arguably Ireland’s back up scrum-half. However, the Conor Murray–Johnny Sexton axis is one of the most impressive in world rugby.
The pair are absolutely crucial to their provinces and country. The Lions duo slot seamlessly into this XV.
Cian Healy and Jack McGrath have been locked in a battle for the number one Leinster and Ireland shirt for some time now.
At the moment Healy is in possession of the of the coveted jersey. His disciplinary issues recently may see McGrath take over once more but for now, Healy is the first choice.
At hooker there us a depth of talent between the two provinces. Rhys Marshall has taken advantage of an injury to Niall Scannell at Thomond Park to overtake him in the pecking order.
However, Sean Cronin’s ability with ball in hand is unmatched in that position and warrants his section in this side. Tadgh Furlong is the best tight-head prop in the world and is one of the first names on the Irish side. Easy decision.
Billy Holland has been colossus for Munster this season as an ever-present.
Yet, Jean Kleyn’s ball carrying skills see him just pip his teammate. The South-African born lock has added tries to his game this year in the absence of Donnacha Ryan.
Beside him, Devin Toner slots in. The giant lock is pivotal in the line-out with his height and crisp hands. James Ryan is Paul O’Connell’s natural successor, but the young man still has a bit to go to get past the experienced Toner.
A Lions back-row will suffice for this XV. Peter O’Mahony deservedly received a bumper contract from the IRFU in a year where he captained the Lions in the first Test against the All Blacks in June.
A leader of men, the Cork man is a truly world class operator. Sean O’Brien is back to his all-conquering best providing huge work rate and ball carrying from the openside.
A vital cog in the Leinster and Ireland machine. At number eight CJ Stander fills in after also signing a new contract this week. Stander hasn’t been his brilliant best so far this year but on his day, he is a nightmare for defenders.
Combined Munster-Leinster XV
15. Simon Zebo
14. Andrew Conway
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Keith Earls
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray
1. Cian Healy
2. Sean Cronin
3. Tadgh Furlong
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Devin Toner
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. CJ Stander
Replacements: Jack McGrath, Rhys Marshall, John Ryan, James Ryan, Josh Van der Flier, Luke McGrath, Ian Keatley, Isa Nacewa.
Jack Neville, Pundit Arena