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Tuesday 27 September 2016

Two goes into eight

Schmidt will note form of back rows

Jamie Heaslip
Jamie Heaslip

The clamour has come for CJ Stander to be accommodated somewhere along the Ireland back row, even when Peter O'Mahony returns to full health.

Apparently, the Corkman is one of the first names on Joe Schmidt's team-sheet due to his lineout agility, all-round versatility and natural leadership instincts.

It is almost unthinkable that Seán O'Brien would land outside the number seven shirt, although the injuries are beginning to mount up.

It remains to be seen how much is left in the Tullow Tank in the years ahead.

This would confine Stander to a one-on-one shootout with Jamie Heaslip, who has been the guaranteed Irish number eight since 2008.

"CJ Stander is someone who has come into Munster and really fitted into their environment and what they try to do," noted Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

Certainly, Stander learned much of what it means to be a Munster man from Paul O'Connell.

He has also bought into the green jersey, noticeably belting out the National anthem and giving his all during the Six Nations.

"From his game point of view, he's someone who carries a hell of a lot.

"He's regularly in around 20 carries a game, gets through a lot of work for the team and is always in around the ball.

"He's a real talismanic figure for them," concluded Cullen.

It is always the way that a new figure draws more of the spotlight, provides new energy and a new story for the media to delve into.

While Heaslip has been about as far from a darling of the media as anyone in Irish rugby, he has never been one to curry favour.

There is a twisted honour in the way he goes about his off-field business.

The Naas man just lets his game do the meaningful talking for him.

He has built a master career even convincing Warren Gatland he was worthy of preference over Toby Faletau for two of the British & Irish Lions tests in Australia back in 2013.

The 32-year-old is what you might call 'a players' player,' and, beyond that, 'a coach's player'

"With Jamie, he's able to adapt his game to the dynamic of the back row quite often," said Cullen.

When Heaslip burst onto the scene, it was as a ball-playing carrier with a roving commission.

An incredible aerobic engine enabled him to do the trench work in close and spin away into space as the phases grew in number.

The emergence of Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris for Ireland meant a move back into the belly of the pack for the mundane work of hitting rucks, close-in carrying and becoming a greater defensive force.

"You've seen that throughout the Six Nations depending on who plays. That's one of his great strengths," said Cullen.

"I thought the two of them performed well together in the Six Nations."

Much of what Heaslip and Stander are able to do will be determined by the actions and reactions of those around them.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will take a special interest in how each counteracts the other.

Leinster: Z Kirchner; I Nacewa (capt), G Ringrose, B Te'o, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, H Triggs, R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Heaslip

Munster: S Zebo; A Conway, F Saili, R Scannell, K Earls; J Holland, C Murray; J Cronin, N Scannell, S Archer; D Ryan, B Holland, D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, CJ Stander (capt).

Verdict: Leinster.

PRO12: Leinster v Munster (live tTG4/Sky Sports 3 tonight 5.30)

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