FOR many rugby supporters it heralds the start of the season proper - the traditional early autumn meeting with arch rivals Leinster in the PR012.
This Saturday, Anthony Foley takes his misfiring Munster side to the Aviva Stadium for a crunch Guinness PRO12 clash with interprovincial rivals Leinster. There are more than just bragging rights and four PRO12 at stake here.
Munster fans will be looking for proof that the province has put the stuttering start to the season behind it and that they can be optimistic about the side’s chances of making a positive start to the new European Rugby Championship later this month.
Just how poor has Munster’s recent record in Dublin been?
Munster will not take great encouragement from their recent trips to the capital. Munster have not beaten Leinster in Dublin since their 2008 PRO12 win at the RDS. The last time Munster won a game at Lansdowne Road was the famous 2006 Heineken Cup semi-final success. There have been five defeats for the southern province since.
And Leinster have won all 13 of the PRO12 fixtures they have played at the Aviva Stadium since the opening of the venue.
What are the key match-ups on Saturday?
One of the most fascinating personal battles on Saturday evening will be the contest between the respective number eights, Robin Copeland , for Munster, and Jamie Heaslip, of Leinster.
While Munster have made a stuttering start to the season, losing two of their opening four PRO12 fixtures, Copeland has only played on winning Munster sides in competitive fixtures since his arrival from Cardiff in the summer.
Copeland admits he has not yet reached the heights he achieved last season playing for Cardiff in the Heineken Cup, but Saturday’s head-to-head with Ireland star Heaslip should provide him with a good idea as to where his game is at.
The battle of the loosehead props will be another fascinating encounter this weekend. The unfortunate injury to Leinster’s number one Cian Healy has opened the door for the likes of Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin along with Leinster’s Luke McGrath to impress ahead of next month’s autumn international series.
Munster were adamant last season that they didn’t get the reward they deserved in the scrum last season from their visit to the Aviva Stadium when Alain Rolland took charge of the fixture. Munster will be hoping that they can convince this weekend’s referee, Ian Davies, of Wales, of their superiority, in this latest meeting between the Irish provinces.
What’s the latest state of play on the injury front?
The disappointing news on the injury front this week concerned utility back Keith Earls who is set to be sidelined for three to four months having undergone knee surgery in London on Tuesday.
It is a major blow to Earls whose appearances in the red jersey have been greatly reduced in recent seasons due to injury problems. Elsewhere, Donnacha Ryan was due to have surgery on his injured toe this Thursday and has been ruled out of action for four to six months.
It’s not all bad news on the injury front, however ahead of this weekend’s trip to Dublin. Peter O’Mahony, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury, and hooker Damien Varley, who has been out of action with a foot injury, trained fully with the squad at UL this Tuesday. Coach Foley will make a call on their availability later in the week, but one or other could feature on the bench at the Aviva Stadium, or perhaps in Munster A’s clash with Leinster A earlier in the day. Either way the progress made by O’Mahony and Varley is welcome news ahead of the big European Champions Cup games later this month.
Where can I watch Saturday’s game on TV?
The Guinness PRO12 round five meeting of Leinster and Munster will be shown live on Sky Sports 2 from 6pm.