A momentous day beckons for Irish rugby
A momentous day beckons for Irish rugby
5 May 2009, 8:51 am
By Dermot Keyes - The Munster Express
These are exciting times for Irish rugby. The best of times. The Six Nations, Heineken Cup and Magners League titles are all in Irish hands. Irishmen will spearhead the Lions' challenge in South Africa, where they will be captained by Munster skipper Paul O'Connell.
And this Saturday evening, in what is expected to be a world record attendance for a club rugby match, Munster and Leinster will lock horns for the right to play in the Heineken Cup final.

Who could ever have envisaged that an 80,000-plus crowd would assemble for an interprovincial encounter on this island and that rugby would be on the tongue-tips of the general public?

One doesn't even have to return to the early 90s and the proverbial couple of hundred and a dog attendance in Dooradoyle that such a game would have attracted to sound a note of surprise here.

Cast your minds back to the Celtic League final of December 2001, when the provinces clashed at Lansdowne Road in what history has now recorded as the foundation stone of their modern rivalry.

Leinster, emerged four-point victors before an attendance just beyond 25,000, still a record for an interpro at the time and better than most FAI Cup finals.

Ticket prices that mild December day came to a whopping €20 for stand and touchline and just a tenner for the North Terrace. A tenner !

The cheapest ticket (through official channels) this Saturday comes to €15 more than that for Hill 16. And if you really, really, want to be there, chances are you'll be forking out a bit more than that.

Anyone that thinks Saturday is a home and hosed affair for Munster would want to think again. While the champions' progress to the semi-finals has been altogether more spectacular (the quarter-final win over Ospreys represents a high-water mark for many), there's been something impressively dogged about Leinster.

Having unusually found tries hard to come by in recent European outings, Michael Cheika's team has been defensively exemplary, most notably at the Stoop last time out.

Their rear-guard action was not a million miles removed from many of Munster's finest hours in this competition, their total commitment in the tight outstanding in the dying minutes of such an attritional encounter.

But Cheika, Leo Cullen and Brian O'Driscoll know that heroic defence alone is unlikely to be sufficient to undo the sizeable knot that Munster currently constitutes.

They need to fire in midfield - that requires good ball from the half-backs. That in turn requires a platform from the pack, one which this Leinster unit are capable of providing.

Tony McGahan has a slightly different problem: can Munster reproduce the scintillating rugby that marked their dismissal of the Ospreys?

Their handling skills of late have been exemplary; Jerry Flannery's deft touches against Llanelli last Friday proving how well oiled the machine is in that particular department.

Virtually everywhere one looks in Munster ranks, one sees potential. Lifemi Mafi and Keith Earls have been outstanding in recent outings; with their ability to breach the defensive line and recycle catching the eye.

Inside them, Ronan O'Gara's boot looks supremely calibrated off the kicking tee and from open play, while Peter Stringer has been in terrific form right from the off this season.

Paul Warwick's match-winning potential allows McGahan to shift the backline's attacking pivot, while Doug Howlett and Ian Dowling's efforts this season underlines how attack is the best form of defence.

There is little to choose between both packs given recent form, as both Magners League outings this season have proven. Past form will count for nothing come Saturday's kick-off, and we can get ready for a momentous collision.

Relish it. Who knows when such a day will come again.

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