herald

Friday 24 November 2017

Blues hold all the aces to shade Magners derby battle

Leinster v Munster, The RDS,

Tomorrow (live Setanta Ireland, 8.0)

The last thing Munster needed was Leinster to be stretched to the point of breaking by Edinburgh. It will concentrate the mind like no coach-speak could ever do.

The home side also have the incentive to provide recently announced retirees Girvan Dempsey and Malcolm O'Kelly with the send-off into civilian life they deserve for their combined service of 28 years to the professional game.

Of course, there is also the considerable matter of the farewell to coach Michael Cheika for five years of solid-gold service in which he transformed Leinster from perennial losers to the foremost club in the Magners League.

More than anything, Cheika is a very Australian winner. He will not want to leave Dublin without securing another piece of treasured silverware. It is an attitude he has drilled into his players.

Above all, the Cheika legacy is one of a winning culture. While Brian O'Driscoll moves reluctantly towards the end of his career, there is a queue of potential leaders ready to take the club forward.

Chief among these is world-leading number eight Jamie Heaslip. He is the single most important player to Leinster's progress, development, call it what you want.

As Kevin McLaughlin said earlier this week, he is one of the few players in the game who guarantees front-foot, go-forward rugby. He almost always makes contact on his terms.

More than that, Heaslip has learned the value of timing. He knows where and when to intervene with his trademark monster hits. He nearly always chooses the right moment to make an impact.

The Kildare man is in the form of his life. He has a cluster of man-of-the-match awards to his name this season. But, this game is not about personal validation. It is about trophies in the club cabinet.

The last thing Leinster needed was Munster to confound all logic in taking a losing bonus point from full-strength Cardiff Blues without Paul O'Connell, Mick O'Driscoll, Paul Warwick, Doug Howlett, Ian Dowling, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Alan Quinlan and James Coughlan. Incredible.

This, too, will have done wonders for the Munster state of mind and repaired the residual damage done by an unremarkable Biarritz in the Heineken Cup semi-final.

Perhaps, at one time, it was true that you never beat Munster twice in the same season. At present, Leinster stand on the verge of their fourth straight domination of the biggest derby in Irish rugby.

History has shown the danger and naivety of taking anything for granted between these two. The 2009 Heineken semi-final is the best example of this sense of false security.

The best we can do is go with the facts and make an educated guess based on all the evidence. Thus, Leinster have Brian O'Driscoll. Munster do not have Paul O'Connell. Leinster have the better form, the greater confidence and the superior first 15.

So, Munster to win? Not quite.

Verdict: Leinster

Promoted articles

Entertainment News