Leinster targeting Munster match to send out ruthless reminder
We are under two weeks away from the resumption of professional rugby on these shores, and of a famous rivalry.
The resumption of the Leinster Munster rivalry will see two teams eager to make a massive statement ahead of their semi final date in September. Barring an extraordinary set of results, we should be treated to two classics in the space of three weeks.
Speaking to an online collection of Irish media, RG Snyman was asked what he expected when Leinster took on Munster at the Aviva Stadium on August 22. "Our plan," he said, "will probably be to just take them on head-first from the forwards especially."
Say no more. If we were not fully invested in the return of the Guinness PRO14 before that, we were now.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was asked, a day after Snyman's briefing, what difference he and Damian De Allende would make to Munster. "There's no guarantees that it will lead to success but when you get top-end players," he pointed out. "It certainly helps. We'll see what kind of impact they make, it's an unknown quantity at the moment."
James Ryan's shoulder injury will deprive Irish rugby fans the opportunity of seeing the Leinster lock going up against Snyman & Co. for now, but Cullen and his coaching staff are over-flowing with players ready to step up to the challenge. Scott Fardy is likely to get one of the second row berths and it will be interesting to see if Leinster pair him with Devin Toner or Ryan Baird [with Jack Dunne, Ross Molony and Charlie Ryan also pressing for selection].
Peter Dooley is out injured too but Leinster are otherwise stacked in the front three. Assistant coach Robin McBryde was not boasting when he said Leinster could start three different packs and have each one highly competitive against the best of the PRO14 and Europe.
As for the back row, you would not guess that they did without Sean O'Brien, Jordi Murphy and [through injury] Dan Leavy in the past 18 months. Leavy is going to a "gradual" return to training but McBryde expects him back for these upcoming games with Munster and Ulster before the PRO14 switches to knock-out rugby.
"He's returning from a long-term injury so the nature of that is you're going to err on the side of caution more often than not," says McBryde, "but he's trained fantastically well.
"I've been impressed with his set-piece work as well, his speed into the air at lineout time. He hasn't jumped that often but because he's been doing so much rehab work on his legs, his one-legged jumping and that, his speed into the air has been outstanding. He's in a good place and he's another player I'm looking forward to seeing getting back in action."
Asked about the prospect of getting one of the northern hemisphere's best openside flankers back, Leo Cullen painted a picture of his tough road back.
Speaking from the Aviva Stadium, where he was promoting an AsIAm initiative, Cullen recalled the evening of Leavy's gruesome knee injury against Ulster, in March 2019.
"He had a pretty horrific injury, and I can remember him lying on a bed in the dressing room downstairs. It's part and parcel of the game, but Dan has worked incredibly hard to get back.
"There was a huge amount of work, too, from our backroom team and we're dying to see him back playing. It's so important, though, to emphasise baby steps so we're not setting him up to fail when he does come back. We'll be patient."
No matter the markers Leavy comes through, one would expect his first games back to be from the replacements' bench. He has the positional flexibility to offer a significant threat in that role.
That leaves the likes of Penny, Murphy, Conan, Deegan, Connors, Deegan, Ruddock and van der Flier scrapping over three starting roles.
As much as Munster want to take on the reigning champions "head-first", Leinster themselves will see this August 22 date as an opportunity to send a ruthless reminder of their immense talent, and power.
Cullen was speaking at an AsIAm event launching a partnership with Aviva Insurance that aims to give away 1,000 back-to-school packs to autistic children throughout Ireland. The back-to-school packs alongside weekly online content is specially designed to keep children stimulated and active in line with their sensory needs, and act as a lifeline for parents, who have been home schooling since March.
Cullen has been working closely with AsIAm and its CEO Adam Harris in recent years and got involved when the child of a close friend was found to have autism.
"In the age of trying to have a more inclusive society, then seeing people having learning challenges and young kids on the [autism] spectrum, the more understanding, research and one-to-one that we can have at an early age, the more of a difference it will make in later life."
You can find out more on AsIAm and their latest initiatives and programmes here.
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