Paul O'Connell has suggested next month's closed doors Irish rugby restart could hand Munster crucial advantage
Former Ireland and Lions skipper Paul O’Connell believes the lack of spectators at next month’s Irish rugby restart will give Munster an excellent chance of securing a rare Dublin win and end Leinster’s 19-match winning streak in 2019/20.
Leo Cullen’s defending Guinness PRO14 champions had won all 13 of its league matches prior to the outbreak of the season-suspending coronavirus pandemic, as well as all six of its Heineken Champions pool matches.
The stalled campaign is now set to resume on Saturday, August 22, with Munster set to provide the opposition to Leinster in a city that has not been a happy hunting ground in recent times.
Munster have won just one of ten league derbies versus Leinster since the Aviva Stadium opened in 2010, while also losing successive PRO14 semi-finals in the last two seasons at the nearby RDS.
All those matches were played in front of huge crowds, with the Aviva catering for in excess of 45,000 people and the RDS accommodating nearly 20,000 on each occasion.
— Ireland AM (@IrelandAMVMTV) July 22, 2020
However, current Irish health guidelines will see rugby restart in August with matches played behind closed doors, a situation that will deprive Leinster of their traditionally massive following for their annual home derby against their arch-rivals.
This is something that O’Connell suggested can now play to the advantage of Munster, who will be looking for a victory to try and help them top Conference B of the PRO14 ahead of Edinburgh and see them avoid having to go to Leinster again in the semi-finals, the stage of the competition that has tripped them up in recent seasons.
“I wouldn’t struggle to play in an empty stadium,” said O’Connell during a guest appearance on Ireland AM, the Virgin Media breakfast TV show. “If you’re playing Leinster in the Aviva Stadium, which is probably going to happen pretty soon for Munster guys, the way things have gone the last few years with Leinster dominating Munster it wouldn’t be a struggle.
“Probably the break has been great for a lot of the guys. A lot of them have been on the road a long time, playing in big matches which are physically tough but also mentally tough as well trying to get up for it every single week.
“The break will have been brilliant for a lot of the seasoned professional players we have throughout the country. It’s not ideal when they go back in front of small crowds or no crowds at all but it’s just something that has to be got on with, it has to be done for the game.”
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