Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saints v Leinster preview

Leinster TA v Northampton

HoR pro logo blueVery mixed reaction among Leinster fans to our first selection of the season.

In some ways, I can appreciate the disappointment that this is virtually an "A" team, especially as the English champions have selected a near-full-strength lineup.  Nobody likes to see their team get beaten whatever the stakes especially if it means a repeat of what happened at the same ground at the same stage of the 2012/13 season.

But hasn't it always been thus?  What we see here are two different ways of looking at team selection for the pre-season.

The Saints will open the new Premiership campaign, as well as the defence of their title, at home against Gloucester on September 5.  In that league it is seen as crucial to hit the ground running.

Now it's true, Sky in their quest to boost the profile of the Pro12 have started the new season with a repeat of last May's final, so in some ways it would make sense to give more senior players a run to help get them match fit.

Still though...we can just as easily argue from the other direction...what would it prove to play Ian Madigan, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney in a match like this one?  Who will remember it if and when the finals come around for Leinster next May?  In fact, screw that...who will remember it when the Champions Cup comes around in October?

I'd love to be going over to Franklin’s Gardens, even if Leinster are likely to lose.  Because there are some youngsters out there looking to break into the senior squad who will get immeasurable experience from the outing. 

Youngsters like Jordan Coughlan, who Joe Schmidt converted from back-row into a power 12 and certainly has the tools to succeed there but has been massively unfortunate with injury. 

Like Sam Coghlan-Murray, who also has had enforced spells away from the game...I'd be very interested to see how a winger with his sevens-style pace can fit into a Leinster set-up.

Like Ben Marhsall, who can play lock or 6 and looked very comfortable in his few senior outings before impressing in last year's B&I Cup campaign.  Sadly he was forced out of the final at an early stage so no doubt he'll be raring to get stuck into the Saints pack and show what he can do.

And with the experience of Boss and Gopperth at half-back to start, plus the immense promise of Luke McGrath and Cathal Marsh to come on…who’s to say we can’t do some damage on the day???

I could be wrong, but I get a sense from a (probably small) number of Leinster fans that they have their knives out for Matt O'Connor, and have done from day one.  If so, this would be a shame in my book.  I don't think he has done anything at the province he wouldn't always have and sure, the team fell short on a couple of big occasions last season, but our biggest defeats were against Toulon and these same Saints - teams who went on to win two trophies each.

Perhaps some are being a tad harsh on the coach of the reigning Pro12 champions?  Perhaps we can afford him the chance to show us he can take the squad even further in his second season?  I'm not saying he definitely will, mind - that remains to be seen - but can we him the space to get it done?  At least until after the first two rounds of Europe?

On the results front today, anything short of a thrashing would be a decent outcome for Leinster.  For me, all roads lead to Glasgow for the season opener and the squad needs to know the fans are fully behind them.  JLP

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