The Key Positions Joe Schmidt Needs To Keep An Eye On During Munster Vs Leinster

Inter-provincial battle.

Leinster and Munster will go toe-to-toe at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow evening in the PRO14 – just weeks before Ireland begin their 2018 Autumn International Series.

Joe Schmidt’s men take on Italy, New Zealand, Argentina and the USA in a packed series next month, and the head coach will be keeping a close eye on a number of positions as he looks to finalise his squad.

With Ulster and Connacht also set to do battle this evening – the Ireland boss will no doubt be in attendance for both games (especially with Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki among the starters), but for the purpose of this article we’re going to focus on the Leinster vs Munster game.

Fullback.
Andrew Conway starts at 15 for Munster tomorrow, with first-choice for Ireland Rob Kearney starting for Leinster. The latter has been a favourite for Schmidt for quite some time now, but his form in the Australia series was average at best. Conway has looked hugely impressive anytime he puts a green jersey on, and maybe, just maybe he can turn Schmidt’s head with a big game tomorrow. Either way it will be an interesting battle.

Second-row.
Really interesting one here. James Ryan and Devin Toner start for Leinster tomorrow, while Tadhg Beirne starts for Munster. These three along with Iain Henderson are Ireland’s four best locks right now – but which two start remains to be seen. It’s going to be really interesting to see who can outperform who tomorrow. There’s also the added factor that the fourth lock on the pitch – Jean Kleyn, is eligible for Ireland just before the Rugby World Cup having recently signed a nee contract with Munster. No doubt Schmidt will be keeping tabs on the South African too, who could very well be a bolter for Japan.

Outhalf.
Johnny Sexton is nailed down as Ireland’s ten, but the battle to be his understudy is still on between Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery. The latter is finally getting minutes under his belt at ten, having joined Munster from Leinster over the summer, while the former hasn’t looked out of place anytime he’s been asked to fill in for Sexton. Tomorrow’s battle will be key – with the two tens set to meet on opposite sides for the very first time.

Wing.
Schmidt will no doubt be hoping Jacob Stockdale comes through his return tonight, but he’ll also be keeping a close eye on tomorrow’s clash too. Keith Earls looks likely be in Ireland’s starting 15 along with Stockdale, but what other wingers make the squad is anyone’s guess. Darren Sweetnam has looked really good this season and Fergus McFadden has always been relied on by Schmidt – both start tomorrow, and could be playing for a spot in the November squad.

The back-row.
Now here’s where things get really tricky. The amount of back-rows currently available to Schmidt are ridiculous. Sean O’Brien is back and starts at eight for Leinster, as is Dan Leavy who lines out at openside. You’ve also got Rhys Ruddock captaining Leinster, and Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell and CJ Stander starting for Munster. And not forgetting Josh van der Flier – who’s on the bench for Leinster. That’s just not fair. How dow you pick 5/6 back-rows from that lot? You’ve also got Jordi Murphy at Ulster. We’ll leave that to Joe Schmidt.