Leinster take on Munster in the PRO14 semi-final at the RDS on Saturday. Off The Ball's Eoin Harte has picked five battles that will play a major part in deciding who goes through to the final.
Ross Byrne vs Joey Carbery
Maybe not the match up we were expecting at fly-half, as Johnny Sexton was named on the bench, but an intriguing one nonetheless. The two faced each other in the Aviva Stadium last October, with Byrne and Leinster coming out on top in that encounter.
Byrne was named man of the match and it was his 69th-minute penalty that got Leinster over the line in an exciting encounter with their southern rivals. Carbery led Munster to victory in their last encounter with Leinster, in which captain Johnny Sexton had a particularly frustrating game, so he’ll have plenty of confidence going into this one.
However, this is Carbery’s first game back from injury so a rusty performance from the playmaker may be expected. Byrne hasn’t had much game time in the big matches for Leinster in recent weeks but you would expect he will be slightly more prepared than his counterpart.
James Ryan vs Tadhg Beirne
Ryan was named the 2019 Player’s Player of the Year and it was a well-deserved accolade for the young man. Beirne however, was also on the shortlist for the award so it’ll be a huge clash between two players who are considered among the best in the country by their peers.
Ryan put in a huge effort at the weekend during Leinster’s final loss with a total of 19 carries and 19 tackles made.
While Ryan almost inexplicably keeps putting in massive performances for both club and country, it’s hard to imagine the former St. Michael’s man isn’t feeling some fatigue after a long season.
Beirne, on the other hand, had the weekend off and should be raring to go for tomorrow’s match. He’ll want to put in a big performance to get his side to the final and to try and force his way into Joe Schmidt’s starting team ahead of the World Cup.
Luke McGrath vs Conor Murray
McGrath may rue not kicking the ball out after 40 minutes in last week’s final loss but overall it was another fantastic performance from the 26-year-old.
His defence was arguably the most impressive part of his performance, putting in 10 tackles, a number of which were crucial.
Murray meanwhile has struggled for form since his return from injury and Munster’s nervy win over Benetton in the quarter-final was another mediocre performance from the No. 9.
Still, Murray on his day is among the best in the world and he’ll take confidence from starting in the win over Leinster back in December.
It should be another intriguing battle between the two men vying to be Ireland’s undisputed number one scrum-half.
Sean Cronin vs Niall Scannell
Cronin has had a bit of an unusual season so far. He finished the Champions Cup top try scorer with a total of six tries, tied with Jacob Stockdale, but also fell out of favour with Schmidt during Ireland’s disappointing Six Nations campaign.
Niall Scannell was the preferred back up for Rory Best in Ireland’s last two games in the Six Nations and he’ll be desperate to hold on to that position for the World Cup. A big performance in tomorrow’s match could go a long way for the Cork man.
The two are quite different players, with Cronin’s pace and agility making him the superior player in the loose while Scannell’s proficiency in the set piece cannot be ignored. The openness of the game will likely dictate which of the two performs better.
Garry Ringrose vs Chris Farrell
Ringrose was suffocated in attack by Saracen’s rush defence and Munster may want to employ a similar tactic if they want to keep a lid on the man. Farrell may be just the man to do it as he rarely puts in anything less than an excellent defensive display.
There’s a bit of a clash of styles between the two outside centres as Ringrose tends to rely on his dancing feet to get past defenders where Farrell is happy to use his size and strength to make metres. Farrell is much more than just a crash-ball runner though as he has shown his deft hands plenty of times in the past.
Ringrose is undoubtedly Ireland’s incumbent No. 13 when fit, but Farrell always steps up to the plate when it is asked of him. With the outside centre channel being the hardest space to in rugby, the winner of this battle may depend on who defends better.
Kick-off in the RDS is 2.30pm.
Everyone’s in the Team Of Us.
Vodafone. The Official Sponsor of the Irish Rugby Team.