By Tadhg Peavoy
Leinster v Munster, Aviva Stadium, 7pm
Graham Henry, New Zealand’s 2011 Rugby World Cup-winning coach, has spoken in the past of individual player profiles.
IPPs are targets set for players, which each individual must hit in order to get the best from themselves and in turn win matches for the team collectively.
The two lineups for Leinster v Munster at the Aviva Stadium are jam packed with talent and the game promises to be something of a cracker as both teams gear up for their European Cup quarter-finals next weekend.
There are a multitude of areas that will influence the game – and any game for that matter. However, Leinster–Munster is one of those games that both teams almost invariably front-up for, leading to five- to ten-point spreads. The last three games have been won by margins of four, six and nine points, respectively, with Leinster gaining two of the victories.
Essentially, this tie is one of those days when whichever team hits its IPPs better than the other will garner victory.
Irish rugby is obviously on a high since Ireland secured Six Nations title glory, and that confidence should ooze from the members of Ireland’s 2014 squad tonight; however, those that narrowly missed the cut will feel they have much to prove to Ireland gaffer Joe Schmidt, and know this is a huge opportunity to put themselves in the frame for a spot in Schmidt’s squad for the tour to Argentina.
To that end, Tommy O’Donnell, who was replaced in the Ireland squad by Leinster’s Jordi Murphy, is a key man for Munster; his dynamism around the park will be key to supporting the more industrial nature of Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony’s work.
In the front row, Dave Kilcoyne and Damien Varley’s battles with Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross, will be key to deciding who gets a better platform off the set-piece. Munster might get the edge here.
In the backline, the battle between Simon Zebo and Fergus McFadden will be fascinating for similar reasons. McFadden offers stability and reliability in almost everything he does, but the spark Zebo brings to a game is something few players have.
In a tight game, as this one is likely to be, Zebo having one of his on-days could be prove a match-winning difference. Conversely, if he doesn't shine, Munster could struggle to get the X-factor they need away to Leinster.
Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan’s personal battle at nine is another of the contrasts. Reddan’s pace and snipe are his unique selling points, but Murray’s power and physicality often give him an edge against most scrum-halves he plays against.
But Leinster do appear to have edges in vital areas going into this one. Jamie Heaslip’s consistent from looks like getting the better of James Coughlan, whose form has been mixed of late.
In the midfield, the Ian Madigan, Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll partnership looks to have an edge on Ian Keatley, Denis Hurley and Casey Laulala. The latter three may have more impact and force, but the creativity supplied by Madigan and the knowledge and ability to open up space for their team-mates that D’Arcy and O’Driscoll create are game changers.
Munster may shock the Aviva crowd and overturn Leinster, with coach Rob Penney getting his players to hit their IPPs to the extent that Leinster cannot contain them. Furthermore Leinster might have an off day but if they play to their potential, as they should, then Matt O’Connor’s charges will likely record a tenth straight victory and maintain top spot in the table.
Verdict: Leinster to win by eight.
Cardiff Blues v Ulster, Arms Park, Saturday, kick-off 6.30pm
Ulster, despite being away from home, come into this tie as favourites.
Cardiff are languishing tenth in the table and were hockeyed 34-9 by arch rivals Ospreys last time out.
They are unlikely to be that bad again, pride in performance will prevent that, but whether they have the quality to stop the Ulster machine at present is questionable.
Ulster roared home 39-21 when the sides met at Ravenhill; Mark Anscombe’s men will not win by such a big scoreline this time, but if Ulster can replicate their ability to be hugely consistent in the pack and also to display a creativity and link play that is one of the best in Europe, Blues will run out of ideas in terms of how to break them down.
John Afoa, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry and Nick Williams are all named in a superb looking pack.
Cardiff have Gethin Jenkins, Filo Paulo, Josh Navidi and Robin Copeland as their spine – also a decent quarter of players.
Out back for Ulster, it is as you would want it with Paddy Jackson, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne all named to start.
It is here that they should gain the upper hand. Cardiff have Gareth Davies in at ten, while Isaia Tuifua at 12 and Alex Cuthbert at 14 are their main danger men.
Cardiff will have to produce their best performance this season to stop Ulster and claim a first win over the Irish province since February 2012. All signs point to an away win.
Verdict: Ulster to win by 12.
Sunday's clash between Connacht and Scarlets to be previewed tomorrow.