By Brendan Cole
After an uncertain start to the season, Leinster look more vulnerable to a home defeat against Munster than has been the case for some time.
The eastern province has had the edge in this fixture in both RaboDirect Pro12 and European competition since the start of the 2009/10 season but there have been plenty of close matches over that period.
Slippage or improvement in one or two areas is usually enough to turn this clash one way or another.
"Slippage or improvement in one or two areas is usually enough to turn this clash one way or another."
With restricted options to select from and coming into the match after a drubbing against Connacht last week, there are significant question marks over Leinster.
Head coach Joe Schmidt has not been shy about calling his charges out on their weak display at The Sportsground and that could provide the jolt needed to kick-start their season.
The importance of the fixture itself should also help get the blood up.
But the personnel available, particularly up front, should not be overlooked when assessing Leinster’s chances.
Of greatest concern is their lack of ball carriers and big hitting tacklers.
With Cian Healy out, the vast majority of the carrying will fall to two players: Richardt Strauss and Jamie Heaslip.
Leinster may simply opt to rely on kicking, speed and setpieces.
That may see them go wide early instead of probing around the ruck.
Out there, Leinster will doubtless be keen to use Jonathan Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll to test the defence of Keith Earls at outside centre, but with no strike runner at full-back and possibly a shortage of momentum from the forwards, the space and options may well be too restricted.
For Munster’s part, the pack has a mean look to it with Peter O’Mahony and Donnacha Ryan looking set for leading roles.
This is a major chance for both players to show what they can do for both province and country this season.
In fairness, Munster are not overburdened with ball-carrying talent either, particularly with James Coughlan out injured.
But they look better equipped to work Leinster hard around the fringes. Scrum-half Conor Murray must get the Munster eight ticking along in good rhythm.
The selection of James Downey might have contributed to an effort to soften Leinster up but Rob Penney has instead gone for Casey Laulala (pictured below) and Earls in the centre positions.
With more offloads than any other player in the Pro12 so far this year, Laulala has the size and skillset to test O’Driscoll and Fergus McFadden, while Earls has also looked sharp and dangerous with ball in hand.
There are plenty of factors in Leinster’s favour, not least Jonathan Sexton’s return at out-half and the scrum power of Mike Ross.
But Munster have edges in what may end up being the key areas and in Ronan O’Gara, they have a man who knows exactly how to make them count.
This is their best shot at beating their main rival in Dublin for some time, and Munster may just take it.
Verdict: Leinster 14-18 Munster