The climax of the Pro14 season takes place on Saturday as Munster travel to the RDS to take on Leinster in a mouth-watering final. The two sides impressively topped their respected Conferences with 14/16 wins. League points however play no factor in a one-off final. Can Leinster make it four consecutive Pro14 titles? Or will CJ Stander have his fairy tale moment and finally win a trophy with Munster?
Alistair Telfer analyses the Pro14 Final matchup between Leinster and Munster.
History between the teams
The last time Leinster met Munster in a league final was 2011, when Munster beat Leinster at Thomond Park 19-9. Keith Earls was outstanding that day, scoring the decisive try. Could history repeat itself a decade on? Earls is in fine form and will fancy his chances. He is a bit like fine wine – getting better with age. Nevertheless, recent form is dominated by blue. Leinster have won 9/10 games against Munster, winning the last five in a row. This includes the last three Pro14 semi-finals, all which were at the RDS.
The most recent meeting came in January at Thomond Park with both sides at full strength. Leinster narrowly won the game 13-10. Psychologically Munster have a hoodoo against Leinster but the only historical thing in their favour is the most important, winning the last final.
Pro14 Final – Leinster vs Munster
Joey Carbery vs Ross Byrne
It does not seem long ago both were battling it out for the role of understudy to Johnny Sexton at Leinster. Now they are their province’s main men. Carbery himself is the forgotten man of Irish Rugby. This is the perfect occasion to put him back in Andy Farrell’s head. Nevertheless, Carbery has only played three games since spending 16 months on the side-line injured. Ben Healy and JJ Hanrahan have deputized for him brilliantly guiding Munster to the final.
Van Graan though has been cutthroat in his selection, bringing in the big game player Carbery as he has the x-factor to slice Leinster open. A bold call as Carbery might not be match sharp for this type of intensity. On the flip side, Ross Byrne is very much used to Pro14 finals, playing a key role as Leinster beat Ulster last year with Sexton again starting on the bench. Leo Cullen has put a huge amount of trust and loyalty in Ross Byrne over recent years and he never disappoints in a blue jersey. Although individually this battle will not win the game, the dynamic between the two playmakers certainly is a talking point.
Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Will Connors would all have certainly started for Leinster, hence their absence gives Munster a slight advantage. However, Leinster’s depth with Rory O’Loughlin, Scott Fardy and Josh Van Der Flier coming in means internationals are replaced for internationals. Munster have no recent injury issues coming into the game with the long-term injury of RG Snyman the only notable possible starter missing.
Often in finals, the game is won or lost in the last 20 minutes. Leinster are in the lucky position to have a wealth of Six Nations stars to come off the bench. This includes Johnny Sexton, James Lowe and Tadgh Furlong, compared to Munster’s back replacements of JJ Hanrahan and Rory Scannell. Craig Casey however will certainly look to add his iconic energy off the bench as he goes up against his Irish rival Gibson-Park.
Leinster at the RDS in a final puts the men in blue as heavy favourites. Along with the quality off the bench and how ruthless Leinster have been this season, it is hard to look elsewhere. However, with the emotion of CJ Stander’s retirement looming and form of Munster this season, the Limerick boys will happily take the underdog tag. Leinster’s two losses to Ospreys and Connacht were at home this season, proving the task is far from impossible. Giants do fall but Leinster are a different beast in a final.
Leinster win by 7 points
Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (C); Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Andrew Porter; Devin Toner, Scott Fardy; Rhys Ruddock, Josh Van Der Flier, Jack Conan
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Bryne, Tadgh Furlong, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Jamison Gibson-Park, Jonathan Sexton, James Lowe
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (C), CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne, Dave Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Craig Casey, JJ Hanrahan, Rory Scannell.
Live on TG4, eir Sport, Premier Sports, Super Sport and pro14.tv.
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Chris Busby (both IRFU)
TMO: Joy Neville (IRFU)
Saturday, March 27th at 5pm at RDS
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