Leinster eye historic double
May 27, 2011
Leinster fly-half Jonny Sexton was their match-winner in the Heineken Cup Final © Getty Images
Seven days on from their Heineken Cup final heroics, Leinster have been tasked with producing another big performance when they face old rivals Munster in Saturday's Magners League Grand Final at Thomond Park.
The men in blue have unfinished domestic business after the title was snatched from under their nose by the Ospreys last year, but they will face a Munster side desperate to end their season on a high after Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup disappointment.
The hosts will also feel that the title is theirs to lose after finishing a massive 13 points clear of the chasing pack at the end of the regular season, but such is the manner of the play-off system that Leinster, who finished second, will fancy their chances of prevailing after one last surge.
The sides shared the spoils over two matches so far this season, although Munster can reflect on a 24-23 Thomond Park win over the European champions only a month ago.
Munster - Player to Watch: If one player is going to stop Leinster from eclipsing their southern rivals it is Munster talisman Paul O'Connell. Expect him to rise to the occasion as a player and a leader of men.
Munster - Team News: Munster opt for the same starting XV that saw off the Ospreys in their semi-final a fortnight ago. As a result, flanker David Wallace makes his 200th appearance for the province in a back-row also featuring Donnacha Ryan and James Coughlan with Denis Leamy on the bench. Fly-half Ronan O'Gara is again partnered by Conor Murray with Peter Stringer amongst the replacements. The match-day squad shows just one change with the unfortunate Simon Zebo dropping out of the squad and Johne Murphy coming onto the bench.
Leinster - Player to Watch: Fly-half Jonathan Sexton inspired his side's amazing second-half turnaround last weekend but can he conjure yet more heroics against their fierce Irish rivals?
Leinster - Team News: There are three changes to the XV that started last weekend's Heineken Cup triumph with Fergus McFadden coming in to partner Brian O'Driscoll at centre at the expense of Gordon D'Arcy who is sidelined with an ankle injury. Heinke van der Merwe starts at loose-head in favour of Cian Healy, who drops to the bench, and Shane Jennings gets the nod at opendside. As a result, Sean O'Brien moves to blindside and Kevin McLaughlin must make do with a place on the bench.
Key Battle: Expect Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton to go toe-to-toe in the latest chapter of an enthralling rivalry. The old master O'Gara has seen his younger opponent steal all the headlines and the Ireland No.10 shirt but will relish the opportunity to offer a reminder of his own class on his home patch.
Trivia: Should Leinster win they will become the first side to win a Celtic-European double, a feat that has only been achieved on four occasions around Europe. Leicester have twice completed a Premiership-Heineken double, Wasps once and Toulouse have on one occasion swept Europe and the Top 14.
Stats: Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll, Shane Horgan and Leo Cullen along with Munster's Ronan O'Gara, Marcus Horan, Paul O'Connell and Mick O'Driscoll are all survivors from Leinster's 24-20 victory in the first ever Celtic League Final in 2001. And Peter Stringer, John Hayes and David Wallace could also have been on that list had they been available for Munster back in 2001 and also D'Arcy had he not succumbed to injury this time around.
"We're going to need to take every opportunity we get, we're playing at home and probably our biggest rivals. They are the Heineken Cup Champions and there's silverware up for grabs so both sides will be up for it mentally. We'll need to take any scoring opportunities we get." - Munster skipper Paul O'Connell
"Whether Munster play Leinster in a friendly, a Magners League, it doesn't matter what game it is, it is always tough and I don't think this week is going to be any different." - Leinster scrum-half Eoin Reddan expects a tough battle at Thomond Park
Prediction: Munster enter the game with significant momentum thanks to a run of nine straight Magners League victories but the newly-crowned European champions fear no-one and not even the 'fortress' that is Thomond Park will stop them claiming an historic double.
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