Guinness PRO14 semi-final: Leinster vs Munster preview
Winners face Glasgow Warriors or Ulster in the Guinness PRO14 Grand Final at Celtic Park on May 25.
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 17/05/19 6:20pm
Defending champions Leinster face Munster at the RDS on Saturday with a place in the PRO14 final at stake. We provide the ultimate guide to the showdown...
Munster's semi-final hoodoo and silverware drought
For all Munster's wonderful history and pedigree, they are currently on a rotten run of semi-final defeats both domestically and in Europe.
Indeed, since Munster's last piece of silverware in 2011 (PRO12), the southern province have competed in 14 semi-finals, losing 12. They've also lost a further two finals - to Glasgow (2015) and Scarlets (2017) in the PRO12/14.
Johann van Graan's side have demonstrated exceptional consistency to almost always be in the mix, but performances have let them down when on the most important stage.
In the PRO14, Munster have suffered semi-final exits in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2018 - progressing in 2015 and 2017 before succumbing to defeats in the final.
In the Champions Cup, since winning their last European silverware in 2008, Munster have lost semi-finals in 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019. They also lost a Challenge Cup semi-final in 2011.
Can this squad banish all those defeats, book a place in a domestic final with a semi-final win at the home of their biggest rivals, and then go on to claim a first trophy for eight years?
Leinster - Champions Cup hangover or bite back?
Leo Cullen's defending champions were physically bettered and let a 10-0 lead slip to lose last weekend's Champions Cup final to Saracens 20-10 - both are facets which very rarely, if ever, can be applied to Leinster.
Ultra-efficient at the ruck, tremendously combative in terms of the physical stakes, clinical in the opposition 22 and devilishly difficult to reel in once ahead, how Leinster react to last week's heartache will be fascinating.
Playing at home is an advantage of course - a trip to Thomond Park after a final defeat would have been a very difficult assignment - but can Leinster put last week to one side and kick on in the PRO14 against their fierce rivals?
Last week would have taken a lot out of the players, but Cullen has chosen to go with 11 of the starting XV which turned out in Newcastle to go again and face Munster.
Leinster will likely either be that few per cent off, or in vengeful mood. It should make for a cracking contest.
Which side has greater PRO14 pedigree?
In short, Leinster. But both sides have displayed remarkable consistency in the competition since its inception as the Celtic League in 2001/02.
Both provinces have qualified for nine semi-finals of a possible 11 since 2001 (season's 2003/04 to 2008/09 took on a regular league format).
Leinster have won eight of their nine competition semi-finals, losing just once to the Scarlets at the RDS in 2017, while Munster have won five of their nine semi-finals, and lost four.
In terms of finals, Leinster have won four (2002, 2013, 2014, 2018), as well as another title (2008) when finishing top of the division. They have lost a further four finals (2010, 2011, 2012, 2016), and finished second in the 2005/06 league.
Munster have won three titles (2003, 2009, 2011), and lost a further three finals (2002, 2015, 2017). They also finished runners-ups in the 2004/05 league. Their semi-final defeats have come in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2018.
In terms of direct meetings in the playoffs, Leinster beat Munster in the 2002 final, while Munster beat Leinster in the 2011 final. In semi-finals, Leinster knocked Munster out at the last-four stage in 2010 and last year in 2018.
Incredibly, there has never been a final of the competition which has been contested without either Leinster or Munster involved - a statistic which will continue this season due to their semi-final meeting.
Indeed 2003/04 and 2006/07 are the only campaigns in history where either Leinster or Munster did not finish as winners or runners-up.
What have the coaches said?
Leo Cullen, Leinster head coach: "There are a lot of different factors but ultimately for us, we have come off a huge final which we've lost, unfortunately.
"And very similar in terms of how we tried to manage the group last year, we're trying to get a bit of fresh energy into the team and it also gives us a lot of experience coming off the bench, particularly with Johnny (Sexton) and Scott Fardy.
"Having those two leaders to call on later in the game if required, so there's a little bit of that in it.
"It's important to have that respect for what they committed to last week and have respect for the opposition we're facing this week. I'm being a little vague here, hopefully everyone understands where I'm coming from.
"It's going to require a full, physical effort from everyone this week because they're an opposition that are highly motivated. I've heard numerous people in their team over the course of the season talking about how desperate they are to win silverware before leaving the province, so we know it's going to be a great challenge.
"There's so much at stake, there's the PRO14 this season but there's a lot of little sub-plots as well."
Johann van Graan, Munster head coach: "It's actually been a fantastic PRO14 season. We've won 17 out of our 22 games, we're really proud of our home record and the improvements we've made away.
"At the start we said there'd be ebbs and flows and we didn't put in a quality performance against Benetton [in their PRO14 quarter-final win] and we looked at that.
"The positive is that we're in this competition at this stage, only four teams can still win it, and for us it's a massive challenge to go down to the RDS and play against Leinster.
"I thought they put in a very good shift against Saracens, and that's our challenge, to go and beat the champions in their own backyard.
"There are a lot of championship moments which you need to win. Against Saracens we didn't start particularly well, we lost the aerial battle. I believe that's something Leinster will target, it's something we've worked on.
"And then finishing your opportunities. The semi-final we played against Saracens, we had opportunities and weren't clinical enough.
"You have to learn out of those moments. You learn out of every single rugby game.
"If you want to get to a final, you've really got to play well and we have to go down to Dublin on Saturday and do that to beat Leinster."
Leinster have made four changes to their side, with Dave Kearney replacing brother Rob in the back-three - Jordan Larmour making a consequent positional change from wing to full-back - and Ross Byrne in for Johnny Sexton, who begins on the bench.
In the forwards, Rhys Ruddock starts in place of Scott Fardy (who is also on the bench) at blindside, while Josh van der Flier returns from injury to replace Sean O'Brien on the openside.
Munster meanwhile have received a huge boost in welcoming back key duo Keith Earls and Joey Carbery to their backline.
Customary No 8 CJ Stander begins at openside in a peculiar move, with Springbok Arno Botha starting at the base of the scrum.
Chris Cloete, despite having earned the third most turnovers in the competition (20), is again left out of the squad entirely - as he was for Munster's Champions Cup quarter-final win over Edinburgh, and semi-final loss to Saracens.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Sean Cronin, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Devin Toner, 5 James Ryan, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Jack Conan.
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Rory O'Loughlin.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Dave Kilcoyne, 2 Niall Scannell, 3 John Ryan, 4 Jean Kleyn, 5 Tadhg Beirne, 6 Peter O'Mahony (c), 7 CJ Stander, 8 Arno Botha.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O'Byrne, 17 Liam O'Connor, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Jack O'Donoghue, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Dan Goggin.