Munster and Leinster meet as the dreaded 'crisis' tag looms over both sides

There's another huge provincial fixture on Sunday as Munster take on Leinster

Anthony Foley, Munster,

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Munster take on Leinster in another of the festive ties between the provinces on Sunday, and there's plenty on the line for both sides. 

The Guinness Pro 12 table shows that the two provinces sit in fourth and fifth place in the table respectively, behind leaders Scarlets, as well as Connacht and Ulster who met in front of a packed Sportsground on Saturday night. 

A narrow win for Ulster in a very tight game showed that there was little between the two, with Les Kiss' side building their win on the back of a strong defence

At Thomond Park on Sunday night, both coaches hoping that they can break a run of bad results: Munster have lost four on the bounce between the Pro 12 and the Champions Cup, with frustrations growing for Foley's side as fans turned on their own players and booed the performance of Ian Keatley recently

For Leinster, an equally bleak run of games has seen them lose all of their Champions Cup matches, and they now must focus all their efforts on the Pro 12 to ensure that they can return to Europe's top table next season, something that might prove increasingly difficult given Connacht's form to date under Pat Lam and Ulster's looking to keep their current momentum going. 

An improved first-half performance in the Aviva Stadium against Toulon will be the one glimmer of hope in recent weeks for Cullen's charges, along with the exciting play from some of the talent coming through the ranks, notably Josh van der Flier

While Leo Cullen doesn't feel he's done enough to put him in the starting XV this weekend, Garry Ringrose will start at 13 for just the second time, while Ian Madigan will slot in at no. 10 with the Leinster coach opting to give Johnny Sexton a rest after he came in for some harsh criticism in recent performances. As Brian O'Driscoll highlighted recently on Off The Ball, Sexton probably took little or no break in the build up to the World Cup this summer: "he's such an intense person and he takes his rugby so, so seriously, he's one of the best professionals out there. It has a major effect on his mood throughout the week, how well the team's going and how well he's going personally, so I wouldn't say he's great to live with at the moment".  

For Munster, Foley has decided to make four changes to the side that lost to Leicester and have been given a big boost with the news that Tommy O'Donnell is set to return to the squad. He may be given some time on the pitch in Sunday's game as he continues to recover from the hip injury that he suffered against Wales back in August. 

With Peter O'Mahony also yet to return, the Munster men are still missing one of their most inspirational figures, who could force better performances out of a number of those in the province who have not put their best foot forward in recent weeks, including Keatley and Simon Zebo. 

While the rivalry element is always important to this fixture, this year the changing fortunes of both provinces adds an extra element of intrigue to a match that never fails to fascinate. Whatever happens, one side will be able to shake off the"crisis" tag with a win on Sunday evening at Thomond, while the other will be left with only more questions to answer.

Munster team:

(15-9): Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo, Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray.

(1-8): James Cronin, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Donnacha Ryan, Robin Copeland, Jack O'Donoghue, CJ Stander (Capt).

Replacements (16-23): Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Tommy O'Donnell, Tomás O'Leary, Rory Scannell, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino

Leinster team:

(15-9): Zane Kirchner, Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Luke Fitzgerald, Isa Nacewa (Capt), Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan.

(1-8): Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Tom Denton, Dominic Ryan, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements (16-23): James Tracy, Cian Healy, Marty Moore, Ross Molony, Josh van der Flier, Nick McCarthy, Cathal Marsh, Dave Kearney.