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Tuesday 21 August 2018

The news at ten

Eoin Reddan expecting out-half rivals Sexton and O'Gara to make headlines again at Thomond Park

It has been 'all quiet on the eastern and southern fronts' as Ireland's Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O'Gara prepare to battle it out in a personal duel that could be decisive for Leinster or Munster this evening.

It is a simple equation. If Leinster win, they can rest easy in the full knowledge that they will top the PRO12 League at the end of the regular season.

If Munster win, it will reduce Leinster's grip on the first seeding and throw into doubt the identity of the club which will have home advantage in the semi-final and, potentially, the Grand Final.

Then, there is the significant matter of the Heineken Cup quarter-finals next week. While the Ireland internationals have been away, Leinster and Munster have managed their resources very well indeed. =

The time has come for Ireland's number one and two provinces, in terms of the PRO12 League, to be fired further by Ireland's number one and two out-halfs.

There is good news for the Leinster half-backs in that Mike Ross has made a sound enough recovery to steady the scrum at tighthead, following his injury and subsequent chastening experience against England at Twickenham.



platform

Scrum-half Eoin Reddan should be able to work off a solid platform if Heinke van der Merwe and Sean Cronin can keep Munster tighthead BJ Botha at bay in the scrum.

Reddan knows all too well the strengths Sexton and O'Gara will bring to what is sure to be a white hot atmosphere in Limerick.

"They are both very competitive individuals. They are both excellent players in their own right. I am sure they will both be going at it," he said.

Munster have set aside their indifferent start to the season in the PRO12 and have come on strong in Europe, where they defied all or most of the objective observers with a typically uncompromising impact in the pool phase.

"Munster are probably favourites for the Heineken Cup now given their run of form in their group in that competition," said Reddan.

"While there wasn't too much made out of it by the media, certainly players around Europe would have been watching that and seeing how well they were playing, especially that last game against Northampton away."

It is no secret that they wouldn't be where they are now without the match-winning magnificence of O'Gara. He is a cold-headed killer of points in the moments that matter most.

Reddan added: "Ronan obviously enjoyed that. He produced a few match-winning moments for Munster. From our point of view, Johnny will be looking to put in a big game. It will be a great competition, as usual, between them."

Reddan will have his hands full dealing with the bustling, physical presence of Tomás O'Leary, who will be determined to leave a lasting impression before disembarking for London Irish in the summer. "Yeah, Tomás is moving on. Knowing him, he will be 100 per cent committed to Munster for the rest of the season. He doesn't do things by half."

The second-row swing could have an influence. Munster are without Paul O'Connell and Donnacha Ryan, the new kid of the block at 28, while Leinster have signed Brad Thorn and have captain Leo Cullen back in the fold.



campaigner

"Mick O'Driscoll played very well for them last weekend," said Reddan. "He is a seasoned campaigner, a great player in his own right."

Leinster will have to be close to their best to come away with the points. The outcome will have an influence on mood and confidence for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

"It is a hard place to play. They always put out a strong side against us and the fans are excellent, giving Munster massive support," added Reddan.

"The fact that we are coming off a loss and that Munster are going well at the moment all points towards a difficult night for us -- no different from any other year."

Leinster: R Kearney; I Nacewa, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; H van der Merwe, S Cronin, M Ross, B Thorn, D Toner, K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt).

Munster: F Jones; J Murphy, K Earls, L Mafi, S Zebo; R O'Gara (capt), T O'Leary; M Horan, D Varley, BJ Botha, Donncha O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll, Dave O'Callaghan, P O'Mahony, J Coughlan.

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