Munster against Leinster has always been a key proving ground for Ireland players, and the current crop get the latest opportunity to advance their causes this weekend in the Guinness PRO14 semi-finals.
In an exact repeat of last year’s semi-final, which Leinster won 16-15 on the way to the title, on Saturday the RDS Arena will see Ireland’s 2019 Guinness Six Nations stars clash in club colours.
With the Rugby World Cup quickly approaching and the 2020 Guinness Six Nations on the horizon, Irish rugby receives the perfect platform to monitor all its runners and riders in this intense Inter-pro battle.
There are few games in the rugby world where you can watch the majority of an international squad compete against each other, but this age-old rivalry does just that.
Local bragging rights and a place in the Guinness PRO14 final are quite obviously at stake, but this first-class match-up serves up bags of fascinating player head-to-heads.
Top of the intrigue list is perhaps the contest at fly-half, where Joe Schmidt’s No.1 Johnny Sexton is on the bench and two challengers to his throne Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery start against each other.
Munster’s Carbery of course left Leinster last summer and as such has increased his game-time domestically.
Schmidt has often preferred him as back-up to Sexton while Byrne earned two caps in 2018 and rivals Carbery and Jack Carty, who appeared three times in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, in the pecking order.
Picking a lock is always a challenge and Schmidt has a wealth of excellent options to choose from – no doubt a shuddering contest awaits on Saturday as king of the turnovers Tadhg Beirne of Munster goes up against Ireland regulars Devin Toner and James Ryan.
For more intrigue you need only look at the back row, where on the Red Army’s side you have two of Ireland’s key protagonists in Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander at No.6 and No.7 respectively.
But on the blue side of the wall Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan all have aspirations as regular Ireland first picks – huge performances at the RDS on Saturday could earn them just that.
Elsewhere in the XVs, Munster full-back Mike Haley seeks his first Ireland cap and comes up against Jordan Larmour, while Andrew Conway could do his chances of nailing a wing spot a significant boost.
In the centres, Leinster’s Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw both start and many would have them top of the Ireland pecking order in midfield – they come up against an in-form Chris Farrell who has been smashing through opponents since his injury return alongside fellow international Rory Scannell.
Leinster versus Munster never requires spicing up but the fact that the men from Dublin prevailed in this very same fixture 12 months ago adds more flavour to the broth.
On that day Conan grabbed Leinster’s only try while Byrne and Carbery ironically combined to build the score with the boot.
Keith Earls and Gerbrandt Grobler touched down for the Munstermen and JJ Hanrahan and Ian Keatley kicked the other five points in defeat.
Since that game, Leinster were at home once again in a Guinness PRO14 Inter-pro in October and prevailed 30-22 thanks to James Lowe’s double, Carbery having crossed the divide by then and kicking seven points against his former teammates.
Two days after Boxing Day though Munster had their revenge, powering to a 26-17 victory at Thomond Park to end a run of four straight defeats against their fiercest rival.