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Lancaster excited by Thomond derby showdown

By Duncan Bech

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster says he's relishing his first visit to Thomond Park.

Fans are expecting an entertaining encounter in Limerick on Boxing Day when his side battle with leaders Munster (5.30pm).

Rassie Erasmus' seven-game winning streak came to an end at Welford Road as a late Owen Williams penalty gave Leicester a narrow Champions Cup win, and they will have little time to lick their wounds with the arrival of their interprovincial rivals.

It is a clash of first versus second in the Guinness Pro12 and the former England coach is anticipating a lively encounter in his first venture to Limerick.

"It's the first time I have been away at Munster. It's a new experience for me," he said.

"You can sense it already in the week, I'm sure it's the same down there.

"I imagine they could sell that stadium out four or five times. It's going to be a great game, I'm really looking forward to it."

Leo Cullen's side will be looking to do the double over Munster after their 25-14 success at the Aviva Stadium in October and come into the game on the back of resounding back-to-back wins over Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup.

Lancaster however is acutely aware of the size of the challenge posed by the league leaders.

"They are playing really well. I thought it was real nip and tuck against Leicester... they could have won it," he said.

Leinster host Ulster at the RDS five days after the Munster clash and with the Player Welfare programme in place from the IRFU, the coach says they will have to be careful in how they manage the squad for the two fixtures.

"You've got to juggle it and make sure we put out two good teams because they are massive games," he added.

Meanwhile, George North will not make his comeback for Northampton against Sale at Franklin's Gardens tonight, despite being passed fit to play after yet another concussion.

The Wales winger has not featured since being signed off for an indefinite period after a mid-air tackle against Leicester on December 3 appeared to leave him lying unconscious.

The RFU decided to review the incident after North was allowed to continue playing following a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) carried out by Saints' doctors, who later admitted they hadn't seen every angle of the incident on the pitch-side monitor.

Saints escaped without punishment when the review was published on Wednesday, but it did say that the club should not have allowed the 24-year-old to return to the field, especially given his history of concussive head injuries.

Director of rugby Jim Mallinder indicated North would make his return against Sale tonight after taking part in full training sessions, but needed to be signed off by a specialist.

But in a statement yesterday, Northampton said: "George North has both trained with the squad and undergone a specialist review this week.

"All parties have agreed that North continue with a full training schedule to ensure he is fully prepared for first-team action."

The Concussion Management Review Group also made nine recommendations based on their findings, including the introduction of pitch-side video reviewers and the entire HIA taking place away from the field of play.

Belfast Telegraph

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