South Africa

Weary Leinster and Munster stars ready for final Lions auditions

We enter the realm of trying not to repeat ourselves. Rugby fatigue will evaporate come kick off at the RDS on Saturday but nobody could possibly stomach another root and branch analysis of Munster shortcomings. Or more about Leinster holding the Indian sign over them.

The collapse of the Rainbow Cup hardly comes as a surprise. It never sounded like a good idea. In theory, sure, but in reality the ‘what if’s’ were endless. We know the Bulls, Stormers et al are marching north and the Springboks will inevitably follow, but this summer was always going to be a stretch.

The South Africans craved the competition so they can be primed for the Lions Test series.

So, there goes another loose plan.

This being their fifth meeting since August, Leinster versus Munster reminds me of Rocky V. Not the one where Dolph Lundgren kills Apollo Creed. The next one where ‘Rock’ appears to be suffering from early onset dementia or CTE – “the effects are irreversible” says the neurologist – but fight on he must after Paulie gambles away millions of dollars.

After failing the Head Injury Assessment and return to play protocols, Rocky challenges Tommy Gunn to a brawl in an alley. The street fight provides an entertaining crescendo to the film but, with next to nothing on the line, nobody is going to remember who hit who.

It is, however, an ideal spectacle for my old coach Warren Gatland. The Lions squad permutations temporarily halt a moan about the Leinster v Munster franchise’s falling from a crammed Croker (Rocky II) to an empty Ballsbridge.

But just like 2009, the players will not lack for motivation.

Here’s what we think we know. Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong are touring South Africa in June/July. There is a spot for James Ryan, if he recovers from concussions. If not, Iain Henderson will go. Both may end up making the cut alongside Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje.

Another head injury could leave Johnny Sexton’s Lions hopes in the balance. Photograph: Ryan Hiscott/Inpho

Conor Murray is another certainty, mainly because Danny Care appears to be his main competition. Johnny Sexton’s chances are up in the air. Gatland cannot forget how Johnny picked apart the All Blacks in 2017, and those short side raids against Exeter were a timely reminder how he can manipulate the best defences. Still, the risk of taking such a brittle outhalf must be a constant debate among the selectors.


As a bolter, Joey Carbery would need to light the RDS up on Saturday. He knows that Leinster is the worst place to come when you are trying to prove a point. They are experts at neutralising threats, like Tadhg Beirne over the ball and Carbery in the Pro 14, so this is the only opportunity to prove he is a better touring option than Finn Russell.

I’d say Rassie Erasmus would be happy with Russell at 10 on the High Veldt. Or Sexton for that matter. Owen Farrell is the favourite and perhaps Marcus Smith’s face might fit better than George Ford.

For the Munster pair, Saturday is the last chance at the ultimate career send off

Gregor Townsend will have a big say.

I see no Irish backrowers in the red jersey. Not with Sam Simmonds forcing his way into the reckoning alongside Toby Faletau, Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Justin Tipuric, Ben Earls and with the Scottish pair Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson playing so well.

Unless something happens in the latest Rocky movie, Caelan Doris is behind the eight ball after concussion wiped out his Six Nations. Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander all have an opportunity to storm past their rivals.

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