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Clash of The Champions
9 September 2008, 11:56 am
The Royal Dublin Society grounds in the heart of D4 will be packed to the rafters for tonight's clash btween the Magners League champions Leinster and Heineken Cup champions Munster.
The sold-out signs have long been posted for a fixture that brings together two sides who will provide Declan Kidney with the bulk of his squad for the upcoming international series termed Autumn Internationals even though they take place in winter !

Factor in also the presence of world stars like Doug Howlett, Rua Tipoki, Chris Whitaker, Felipe Contepomi, CJ Van der Linde and Rocky Elsom. Then for good measure measure allow for the burgeoning talent that is Keith Earls, Donncha Ryan, Luke Fitzgerald, Johnny Sexton and Robert Kearney and it's easy to see why the stands will be bursting this evening despite the nonsense kick-off time.

The day and the time means - although in fairness Leinster's growing support base has to acknowledged as a factor also - those stands will be heavily loaded Leinster's way but how many of you present this evening, were in Lansdowne Road on that miserably wet and cold Saturday afternoon back in December 1995 ? That was the day when Jim Glennon's/Ciaran Callan side lost out to Cardiff in the inaugural semi final of the Heineken Cup.

And least you need reminding there were just over 7000 brave frozen witnesses there.

Twelve months on and Leicester arrived for their Round Two European Cup game and played it in front of 3,500, again on a bitterly cold day in an eerily empty Lansdowne Road. For the next few seasons attendances fluctuated, around 6,000 fetched up to Donnybrook for the September '97 meeting with Leicester Tigers and when the Tigers came back in November '99 it was a hard sell to get the six and a half thousand in.

In 2002, 30,000 turned up to see Leinster come from behind to win the inaugural Celtic League and in 2006, 30,000 couldn't get tickets to watch Munster overcome Leinster in glorious sunshine in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup.

Munster were used to dragging the punters in and now have a new Thomond Park stadium to cater for demand while Leinster play in front of near full houses in the RDS and have regularly filled Lansdowne Road when they played there.

Of course a lot has to do with the great rivalry but credit too, to the people behind the scenes and to the squads themselves for the type of rugby the supporters anticipate.

But speaking of the sort of rugby played, again the question. How many of tonight's audience were in Donnybrook some years ago for one of the great exhibitions of rugby seen at that comfy little ground ?

Leinster were the hosts and Munster the visitors. It was an interprovincial game played in ideal September conditions. It yielded eight tries, five for Leinster and three for Mick Galway's Munster including two from the skipper himself. Richard Governey thumped over a penalty in the first minute of injury time that looked the winning score but Munster bounced back, Anthony Foley was denied by a crunching tackle from the outstanding Chris Pim but Eddie Halvey picked from a close-in scrum to snatch the winning try.

The link to tonight's is maintained through Kurt McQuilkin and Foley, both now on the respective coaching tickets. It seems Foley is linked to everything glorious in Munster's past.

No he didn't play in the '78 win over the All Blacks. He let his father Brendan represent him.

And as for the tonight's clash ? Think Kerry v Tyrone. Think Kilkenny v Cork. Think United v Chelsea. Multiply your thoughts by any number you fancy and you'll get somewhere near understanding the seismic nature of this event.

Munster: K Earls; D Howlett, R Tipoki, L Mafi, I Dowling; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes; P O'Connell (capt), D O'Callaghan; D Ryan, D Wallace, J Melck. Replacements: F Sheahan, F Pucciariello, J O'Sullivan, A Quinlan, P Stringer, P Warwick, B Murphy.

Leinster: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, F Contepomi, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, C Whitaker; R McCormack, B Jackman, CJ van der Linde; L Cullen (capt), M O'Kelly; R Elsom, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Wright, J Fogarty, T Hogan, C Jowitt, S O'Brien, C Keane, R Kearney.

Referee: Simon McDowell (IRFU).

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