Jonathan Davies: Centres of attention in a classic conflict of styles

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The Independent Online

Dublin will today stage what must be the biggest and most intriguing game in the history of Irish provincial rugby. Leinster versus Munster at Lansdowne Road is never less than momentous, but this meeting is extra-special.

I was over there last weekend and the expectation level was incredible. This is more than just a clash of ancient rivalries, it is a fascinating conflict of different styles.

It reminds me of the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight. Munster will loom over the field in Foreman's style and Leinster will be out to show their skills and do the Ali shuffle.

I admire the fact that both sides kept themselves going in readiness for the match. There has been no resting of players nor holding anything back; they have both been flat out to maintain their form. The general view is that Leinster will start as clear favourites, and have too much pace and guile for Munster to handle. But they need the ball before they can perform. Munster will base their plans on not letting them have it.

With that in mind, Munster would have been encouraged by the way Llanelli fared in the first half against Leinster last weekend. They dominated the early stages, their forwards carrying the ball strongly and dictating the game, to go into a deserved lead by half-time.

In the second half Leinster's forwards picked their game up and paved the way for four tries. It was impressive stuff. But Munster will be tougher to overcome. They will play a territorial game, keep it tight and limited, allow no loose ball and get the set-pieces right.

There will be plenty of up-and-unders and kicks to the corners. Every line-out and scrum will be attacked and Munster will try to strangle Leinster's style before it gets a chance to spread its tentacles.

It is a classic contrast of approaches. Although you tend to favour the side with the cutting edge, you can't dismiss Munster's chances. They will certainly have Felipe Contepomi in their sights but, as vital as he is, the centres are the key. Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy make a brilliant partnership. For me, their great strength is they always get over the gain line. They are so good at the one-to-one and they use their quick feet to burst through and give their forwards a target to pile in and keep the momentum going.

Contepomi dictates the patterns of their play, and it is part of his make-up that he looks for the opportunity and is not afraid to go for it. He seems to have no fear of the consequences, and this daring sense of adventure has helped to make them so successful. But there are moments when Leinster fans have their hearts in their mouths at his audacity.

Munster will be on constant alert to see if they can exploit his over-eagerness to attack. That's what makes it such a fascinating prospect.

Leinster must remember that it is dangerous to regard any side containing Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer as one-dimensional. Munster's back line might not be comparable in menace but they are still capable of scoring tries. It is the sort of match in which the stereotyping comes adrift.

All we can be certain of is that there will be sparks. We can't be absolutely sure where they are going to come from.

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