by Brendan Cole
Both Munster and Leinster may have more important clashes ahead, but this RaboDirect match is so loaded with meaning for players and supporters that it is rarely less than compelling viewing.
For neutrals, any fixture which sees Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell named on opposite sides in the starting line-ups is one to be relished.
Dominance at home has long been a pre-requisite for sustained success in Europe and Munster would dearly love to knock Leinster off their domestic perch, along with maintaining the standards set against Harlequins last week.
But with RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final qualification a forlorn hope, Munster’s primary goal right now is a huge Heineken Cup performance against Clermont at the end of April.
Leinster have a different set of concerns with two potential routes to silverware open to them.
The Amlin Challenge Cup final is slated for the RDS, which makes winning the semi-final against Biarritz even more important. But the RaboDirect Pro12 is even an even bigger priority, not least because Leinster have been beaten in the last two finals.
A victory here would shore up their position in the table, and put the pressure on current table-toppers Glasgow and Ulster, while defeat could make them vulnerable to dropping out of the top four.
In that light, it is no surprise to see Leinster put out a very strong XV, with Brian O’Driscoll returning to the starting team and the best player available used across a host of positions.
The creative core of the team, O’Driscoll, Ian Madigan and Gordon D’Arcy, looks exceptional.
If Isaac Boss and Shane Jennings can keep the tempo up and quality of ball high, the likes of Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy and Jamie Heaslip are capable of punching holes and potentially knocking Munster’s defence out of shape over multiple phases.
That said, the return of O’Connell alongside strong defenders like Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell will make Munster a much tougher nut to crack in the tight and if Leinster take their initial carries wider they risk getting smashed in the centres by the hard hitting James Downey and Casey Laulala.
The worry for Munster is the scrum, where Munster have left Donnacha Ryan out of the squad and BJ Botha not named in the starting XV, Munster could be particularly vulnerable in the scrum.
In contrast, Leinster field their best scrummaging front five with the powerful South African-born 22-year-old Quinn Roux given his most high-profile start to date alongside Leo Cullen.
It will be a huge test of technique and fortitude for Stephen Archer, Damien Varley and Dave Kilcoyne in the Munster front row, though Botha may swing the contest Munster’s way in the second half, particularly if Mike Ross is forced off at any stage.
In attack, having Ian Keatley start in place of Ronan O’Gara could pay dividends in what could turn out to be a loose enough game. Munster have been at their best with a penetrating carrier at first centre and if they can launch Downey against the relatively small Leinster midfield defence, opportunities should open up out wide for the back row and Laualala.
At their best, Leinster bring superb speed and accuracy at the breakdown in attack, and if Munster are unable to check them there they have the tools in the three-quarters to open Munster up.
In front of their home crowd and against their biggest rivals, there is no chance of Munster turning in the type of lame performance that saw them trounced by Glasgow two weeks ago.
But have Munster found a way to play their traditional game within the Rob Penney framework or was the victory over an out-of form Harlequins a one-off? Munster may well have found a better way, and had they signalled intent by naming Ronan O’Gara, Botha and Ryan, would have an excellent chance of taking a psychologically important win.
But the scrum is potentially a major Achilles heel for Munster, and could just provide the platform for Leinster’s speed and accuracy in attack to put them on the front foot. In the likes of Madigan, Isa Nacewa and O’Driscoll, they have creators and finishers capable of taking full advantage.
RaboDirect Pro12 Prediction: Munster 15-23 Leinster
Leinster: R Kearney, D Kearney, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, I Nacewa, I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen (c), Q Roux, S O'Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslipl.
Munster: F Jones; D Hurley, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne , D Varley, S Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (c); P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell , J Coughlan.
Live television coverage of Munster v Leinster from 18:00 on Saturday 13 April on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only).