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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Preview - Treviso v Leinster

After a shaky start, the feelgood factor is starting to return to Leinster rugby.  

Since that disappointing night at the Aviva where we fell woefully short against Munster, from four wins on the bounce including two in Europe, to the success of Joe Schmidt's Ireland so far this November, to the arrival in Dublin of Michael Cheika bringing back such great memories, to the return to action of so many key players from injury, it's hard to deny the mojo seems to be on the rise.

And after a three-week break from action, one could argue that the only thing easier than a trip to a team that is winless after 7 rounds of the Pro12 would be a home match against a team that is winless after 7 rounds of the Pro12.

Perhaps all of the above may be true, but hopefully the results from Friday night will serve as a reminder to Matt O'Connor just how important it is for his players to keep their feet firmly on the ground.

Normally when we're not in the top two it's a good thing for both of them to be beaten the same weekend, but now it is very different.  Not only did Ospreys and Glasgow lose but it was to teams who like us are in the hunt to catch them, namely Ulster and the Scarlets.

Those two results along with the bonus point win for Munster now mean that not only do we now lie 7th going into Sunday, we are also a worrying six points behind the top four. 

Maybe I'm being a tad alarmist but whatever about our history of stringing good results together after Christmas, I'm not so sure I'd fancy doing it from so far behind and with so many teams ahead of us.

For this reason it becomes imperative that we win in the Stadio di Monigo.  And to make that happen I am not altogether certain we should play the way we have done so far this season.

Looking at the Treviso lineup the standout name is Leo Auva'a - not because he used to play for us, rather because he is down to wear the number 21 jumper.

We all know what having Matt O'Connor as coach and Jimmy Gopperth at 10 will probably mean for our offence, particularly when it's on the road.  But given our Healys and O'Briens are injured and our Heaslips and Cronins are on test duty, can we really afford put all our egg-chasing in the ball-carrying basket?

Treviso coach Umberto Casellato would seem to think we will.

He has gone for the "six-two split" option on the bench which essentially means most of the starting pack can tackle their guts out from the kickoff safe in the knowledge that it is likely to be for a 50-60 minute shift.

Plus there is the fact that of all the matches on Treviso's upcoming schedule, this is the one they would most likely target to break their season duck in the victory column.  Next week they go away to Cardiff who may be minus their test players but will still need the Pro12 points to stay in touch with the top 6.  Then it's a back-to-back series in Europe with the English champions.

I really do believe that this could be one of those matches where the longer it stays close, the longer the home side will believe they can pull off an upset.  I'd be worried that if we revert to type that could be exactly what will happen.

And it's not as though we don't have options in our backline to keep the Italian pack out of the equation.  Luke McGrath gets his second start in a row ahead of Isaac Boss which many Leinster fans will feel is exactly how the pecking order should be at the province.

Then we have the return of Dave Kearney who will no doubt be keen to remind Joe Schmidt that he was part of our Six Nations success.

In the centre Noel Reid and Luke Fitzgerald make for an interesting combination, and with Kearney, Fanning and Kirchner all well able to find quality lines, there will be many opportunities for us to keep the home side's backline honest and make them regret having just the two in reserve.

The question is...will we?

In all likelihood, even if the home side are waiting for our forwards in the tall grass we will probably "out-bosh" them but for me the consequences of it not working (early injury for us, bad referee call; any of the usual "known unknows" could hurt us) are too great when it comes to our chances of retaining the Pro12 crown.

But I can't let this preview go by without at least a bit of positive news.  For example, on our bench it's great to see the names of Jamie Hagan and Cathal Marsh.

Jamie signed a three-month contract during the week after the unfortunate news for Ed Byrne left us chronically short in the prop department.  No better man for slotting straight back into the set up and he is a key addition to our wider squad (wider in term of numbers not physical size that wasn't a fat prop joke!).

Meanwhile with Gopperth likely to leave and both Sexton and Madigan likely to be away at the start of next season, Cathal Marsh has to be thinking he has a shot at starting the 2015/16 season as owner of the Leinster 10 shirt, and it could be in matches like this  where he starts to stake a claim off the bench.

Sorry for the wariness folks - I do believe we'll get the win on the day and when all is said and done I would be happy with that even without the bonus point (unless of course Treviso are altogether awful) it's just that with the Ospreys plus the back-to-backs with Quins to come plus a relatively makeshift lineup there are ways we could take our eye off the ball.

Hopefully come full time I'll know my worries were unfounded and our margin of victory will be closer to (or beyond!) the bookies' 13 than my more guarded 7.


TREVISO : 15 Jayden Hayward 14 Andrea Pratichetti 13 Enrico Bacchin 12 Sam Christie 11 Ludovico Nitoglia 10 Joe Carlisle 9 Alberto Lucchese
8 Mat Luamanu 7 Dean Budd 6 Marco Barbini 5 Corniel Van Zyl>(capt) 4 Tomas Vallejos 3 Rupert Harden 2 Davide Giazzon 1 Matteo Zanusso
BENCH: 16 Amar Kudin 17 Josè Novak 18 Romulo Acosta 19 Marco Fuser 20 Meyer Swanepoel 21 Leo Auva'a 22 Ruggero Trevisan 23 James Ambrosini

Guinness Pro 12
Sunday 23nd November 2014, KO 14:30 (Irish time)
Live on Sky Sports
Stadio di Monigo
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU, 64th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Claudio Blessano, Andrea Spadoni (both FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Alberto Recaldini (FIR)
TMO: Mauro Dordolo (FIR)

Front Five - 22.11.14

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.

Later today here on HarpinOnRugby...
our Treviso v Leinster preview
PLUS tune in to our Facebook page
to leave your thoughts after #IRLvAUS

Ulster dug deep to see off the challenge of the previously unbeaten Welsh region

Ulster send Ospreys packing at Kingspan

Richard Mulligan - Belfast Newsletter

Muliaina was able to demonstrate his class, particularly on the counter-attack, to be given a rousing ovation from the 5,486 crowd

Mils Muliaina makes his presence felt as Connacht go to town on Zebre

Linley MacKenzie - Irish Times

Munster, in the shape of Hanrahan at full-back, re-discovered their tactical kicking game and forced the home side backwards. 
Alex Bywater - WalesOnline

Glasgow were in touch until the closing minutes as the two sides exchanged penalties, but the Scarlets finished strongly  
Hamish Stuart - The Scotsman

He is shaving his afro to raise $10,000 for the Walk On Walk Strong Foundation – a charity raising awareness for childhood cancer in his native country

'Afro hero' Henry Speight says playing for Wallabies is mind-blowing

Chris Dutton - Canberra Times

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Friday, November 21, 2014

Preview : #IRLvAUS

If we choose to let them, two of sport's most boring concepts can enter the conversation surrounding Sunday's clash at the Aviva Stadium - World rankings and the 3rd place playoff.

I'm actually not as critical of the ranking system as many are...given  test nations can't all play each other every year, some kind of system has to be used and even if it does use brain-melting maths, so long as we persist with it, it surely can't have any fewer flaws than an alternative method.

And what the latest bout of number-crunching means is that essentially this is akin to the one match at any World Cup (click here for Rugby World Cup tickets) in which no team really wants to be involved...the winner will sit third in the world, and incidentally if it's a draw the spot will go to the Wallabies.

Joe says it's a distraction, and he's right, though for a coach who craves as much time with his squad as he does, anything outside plotting and scheming at Carton House for the next mission would be considered as such.  

Not that this contest needs rankings to provide the hype.  The second Michael Cheika was handed his current job by the ARU, the rumblings of an "ex-Leinster coach showdown" began, though it must be noted that successful and all as these two great coaches have been at the highest provincial level, they have but 14 tests between them.

All told, I really don't think either coach needs all that context to motivate their squads.  The occasion itself should do that for them.  But at least gives us plenty to harp on beforehand!

OK - time to finally focus on the match.  Interesting selection for Ireland - after the clinical dispatching of the Springboks the  changes were bound to be minimal but they are still worthy of examination -

Best for Cronin - Leinster goggles aside, this is the right choice for me.  Rory would have started against the Boks if fit and before his injury against the All Blacks last year we all saw the type of leadership he can bring to the side.  That's not to take anything away from Cronin but for this Ireland side his ball carrying can be of great use off the bench and there's a certain Mr J Heaslip there to take up that particular role in the meantime.

Darcy for Henshaw, Henshaw for Payne - Much like Rory, a sensible choice based on experience.  Darce didn't exactly light things up last week but he was rarely called upon.  This pairing could be the making of young Henshaw in the green 13 jumper.

Nobody for Zebo - Raised an eyebrow when I saw he was starting for the third week in a row - thought Jones or even Gilroy could have nipped ahead of him from last week but I guess Joe was thinking that to make that switch from the Springboks would suggest Simon was awful which he wasn't.  This could well be a last chance saloon for him though.  With Adam Ashley-Cooper guarding his channel the chances out wide will be at a premium so it will up to him to be the type of winger Joe Scmidt wants him to be.

Foley for McCarthy - We'll never know but I have a feeling Mike would have kept his place were he available on account of his offering such a different option to POC & Dev.  Still, there's no doubting that Foley earned his call and will be another good ball carrying option off the bench. to beat the Wallabies?  Well that's an almost impossible question to answer given that at least the first half is bound to be something of a chess match.

Australia won't present the predictable front which the Boks & All Blacks tend to do.  There are bound to be curveballs, definitely in their opening salvos and possibly even in the nature of their lineup before kickoff (for example I wouldn't bat an eyelid if it turned out that Quade Cooper was starting).  This presents Joe & his crew with a new set of challenges, but they are ones they are bound to be more than ready for.

For me it all centres around our half-backs.  Once Murray & Sexton can mix things up from an early stage and keep the Wallaby defence guessing, then opportunities are bound to arise.  Also if we are to resort to the kicking game at any stage, accuracy is an absolute must as there will be deep attacking Wallaby options on the park for the entire 80 minutes.

But let's at least get ready for one thing...a low scoring first half.  BOTH matches at the Aviva so far this November have resulted in less than 10 points in total before the interval and with what should be two well-drilled defences involved, things could very well be the same.

It could boil down to how the two sides come out for the second half...while the Wallabies have shown themselves to be good at adapting to what their opposition have thrown at them, they may not have the time if we come out from the break as strongly as we have the past two weeks.

Mattie Williams threw down an interesting gauntlet during the week, suggesting that if we lose this then we'll continue to be a side which is good at pulling off "once-off" good performances against top sides in wet conditions.

I'm not sure that's entirely fair...for example, though the Wallabies deserved to lose in Paris last week, when you take away that one piece of brilliance from Teddy Thomas they would have won.  So I'm not sure if defeat in what should be a close contest can necessarily  lead to Mattie's conclusion.

As fans, all we can do is put our trust in Joe to have them ready and cheer them on until are voices go hoarse.  The eyes of the rugby world will be on the Aviva Stadium on Saturday - even though it is "only" for third place, this is hands down the top match of the weekend.

The bookies have us by 2 - they have been eerily accurate this season for the most part (just out by the one point v Georgia last week) and for once this season I am going to be less conservative and tap us to win by 6 points.  Should stay close throughout but I like the look of our bench.

All I want now is for the match to kick off.  Thankfully there's a ton of rugby tonight and at lunchtime tomorrow to help pass the time!

See you on the other side!

#ShoulderToShoulder #JLP

note : our Treviso v Leinster preview will post tomorrow lunchtime

AUSTRALIA : 15 Israel Folau 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper 13 Tevita Kuridrani 12 Matt Toomua 11 Henry Speight 10 Bernard Foley 9 Nick Phipps
1 James Slipper 2 Saia Fainga'a 3 Sekope Kepu 4 Sam Carter 5 Rob Simmons 6 Luke Jones 7 Michael Hooper 8 Ben McCalman
BENCH 16 James Hanson 17 Benn Robinson 18 Tetera Faulkner 19 Will Skelton 20 Jake Schatz 21 Will Genia 22 Quade Cooper 23 Kurtley Beale

Guinness Series
Saturday 22nd November 2014, KO 16:30
Aviva Stadium

Ref: Glen Jackson (NZRU)
AR1: Nigel Owens (WRU)
AR2: Mike Frazer (NZRU)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (FFR)
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