United Rugby Championship
Even if Munster were not expecting to face any of Leinster’s front-liners in their important URC clash this evening, privately at least, they would have welcomed Leo Cullen giving his younger fringe players another well-deserved opportunity.
That Leinster already have top spot secured is down the strength and depth of their squad, which will once again be illustrated at the Aviva Stadium later, when Ben Murphy becomes the 60th player that Cullen has used this season.
It’s a remarkable feat, not least because behind that figure lie many players who need to be kept happy with sufficient game-time.
However, for all that Leinster and Cullen in particular, should be lauded for creating such a harmonious squad, this inter-pro derby is all about Munster’s quest to secure a home quarter-final.
A win would guarantee Munster at least one knockout tie at Thomond Park and although other results may go in their favour by the time they kick off in Dublin, Johann van Graan has made it clear that his side will be going all out to win the game either way.
On paper, there really shouldn’t be any excuses for not beating this much-changed Leinster team, which doesn’t even include many of the replacements, who will be expected to be on the bench in Marseille next week.
Cullen will have been driving the message that places are up for grabs for the Heineken Champions Cup final against La Rochelle, yet the reality is, even if players like the return¬ing Ireland duo Jordan Larmour and Ryan Baird shoot the lights out, they are very much up against it to make the plane to France.
Van Graan has decided not to risk Peter O’Mahony or Gavin Coombes and with Simon Zebo and Damian de Allende also missing through injury, this is nevertheless a strong Munster side, who have much more continuity compared to their hosts.
“It doesn’t matter who they play against, they have the ability to score just before half-time,” Van Graan said.
“We’ve got to perform for 80 minutes if we want to get a result.”
As for opposite number Cullen he has thrown down the gauntlet to the young guns.
“It is a challenge for guys because they all want to play, for sure,” Cullen said.
“So the guys, I have to say, have acquitted themselves well and it creates a positive pressure in terms of that selection piece which is what you want and long may it continue that those young guys keep putting the pressure on.”