By Phil Rice
Just seven days after a hugely attritional battle with Saracens in the Champions Cup final, Leinster must quickly re-focus on the battle for Pro14 honours.
In one of the most physical finals in Heineken Cup history, Leinster just failed to become the first team to win the European Champions Cup on five occasions.
As expected, Saracens ground the Leinster team into the St. James’ Park turf with their muscular physicality.
The North London team appear to be hell bent on taking rugby to the limits of ferocity and some of the hits last Saturday were close to unacceptable.
Rugby players’ careers will be significantly shortened if the game continues down this road of extreme physicality.
Munster will see this as an opportunity to take on their traditional rivals at a time when they are licking their wounds, both physically and metaphorically.
Solid stats from the men in blue after round 21 of the #GuinnessPRO14 @leinsterrugby now head into the Final Series facing a hungry Munster team, but with an almost full bill of health, they will be tough to beat at home.https://t.co/TX5abLGZ4e #FinalCountdown #FinalSeries pic.twitter.com/2XHBroI0y4
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) May 13, 2019
Potentially Leinster will have three successive weeks of highly competitive cup matches should they succeed this weekend.
Joe Schmidt will be anxious for his squad to emerge without serious injury, with the World Cup preparations about to begin.
Munster themselves received the ‘Saracens treatment’ just three weeks ago in the sides’ Champions Cup semi-final meeting, and will be fully aware of the recovery time required from such an demanding battle.
But both teams will be know that they have worked hard all season for this opportunity to carry off the prized Pro14 trophy.
The victors will face either Glasgow or Ulster in the Pro14 final at Celtic Park on 25 May.
The #GuinnessPRO14 Semi Finals are just about here – excited much?
⌚️ 19.35 Friday, May 17th #GLAvULS at Scotstoun Stadium
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) May 13, 2019
If Leinster do prevail this weekend, you can only imagine how physically battered they will be after the final.
Munster are hoping that both Keith Earls and Joey Carbery will be fit to play this weekend. Both were sorely missed in their European semi-final three weeks ago.
The two provincial rivals last met in a bad-tempered affair last December. Munster targeted Johnny Sexton for special treatment that day and the Leinster captain was accused of losing his cool in response.
There is never much love lost between these two teams and when the stakes are as high as they will be on Saturday, you can expect an intense battle.
Leinster will have home advantage on this occasion and the RDS is not only completely sold out, but 700 additional seats have been squeezed into the arena for the eagerly awaited match.
Munster Rugby and the IRFU can confirm that Forwards Coach Jerry Flannery and Backline & Attack Coach Felix Jones will depart the province at the end of the season.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) May 7, 2019
Last week two of Munster’s coaching team announced they will be moving on at the conclusion of the season.
Forwards coach and ex-player Jerry Flannery and backs coach Felix Jones have decided to progress their careers elsewhere.
The timing of these announcements has been widely criticised, so close to Saturday’s crucial match.
Welsh and Lions coaches Rob Howley and Robyn McBride are reported to be their likely replacements.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan was clearly disappointed at the departure of Flannery and Jones, who had appeared to be part of a settled and successful coaching ticket at the Thomond Park club.
Leinster are expected to maintain their coaching and playing staff for next season, with only London Irish-bound Sean O’Brien moving on.
Scott Fardy was due to return to his Australian homeland, but he has decided to re-sign for a further season.
Head coach Leo Cullen was in phlegmatic mood after Saturday’s defeat, accepting that Saracens just about deserved their victory and that his troops will take the defeat on board and return to European action wiser and more determined next season.
There have been calls recently for the inter-provincial cup to be reinstated, based on the results of the Pro14 matches between the provinces.
If the thought behind this suggestion is to step up the intensity of these games, any viewer of recent Leinster v Munster matches will wonder how that could be possible.
This weekend’s semi-final is likely to be as competitive as ever, with no quarter asked or given.
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) May 13, 2019
Leinster will be anxious to revenge December’s defeat and to get back to winning ways.
They tend to recover from defeats by taking it out on their next opponents, and as usual Munster will need no further motivation than to see 15 Leinster shirts on the opposite side of the field.
In the other semi-final, Rory Best will be desperate to bring down the curtain on his Ulster career with some silverware. Glasgow are a very competitive team wherever they play, but particularly at their home ground of Scotstoun.
They have failed to lift a trophy for a couple of seasons and with the knowledge that the final will be played the following week at Celtic Park, Stuart Hogg and his team will not want to miss out on giving their fans something special to round off the season.