Friday, September 05, 2014

HoR pre-season thoughts - Part 4


What's new in European rugby for 2014/15

PART TWO - MONETARY UNION

Who stands between Leinster & more trophies

PART THREE - THE HOLY GRAIL

Joe Schmidt and Ireland's path to RWC2015



And so we reach the final part of our pre-season pre-amble here at HarpinOnRugby.  I have now grown accustomed my shiny new Chromebook and I'm ready to go for the new season.  The question I must ask today is...how ready are Leinster?

PART FOUR - LET MATT FINISH


Above we have Matt O'Connor's first matchday squad for the new campaign. Quite a strong one we must admit, but before people talk about the effect of the new Pro12 rules & regulations compared to last season, we also put out a strong team to play at Parc y Scarlets to start last season.

But it is definitely a lineup that answers a lot of questions for us. For one thing, it shows complete faith in Brendan Macken.

You can bet your bottom Euro that the scheduling of Glasgow at home to Leinster on the opening day of the season was down to Sky. What better way for them to market their new product. Say what you like about them, they know how to package sports.

And it goes without saying that one of the biggest palavers they will make in their coverage will be the "void" left by Brian O'Driscoll. 

Now there are other ways MOC could have gone with this selection...McFadden could have handled the heat at 13, Kirchner on the wing and maybe Madigan at full-back, but full confidence has been put in the Reid/Macken axis (which only last May started the B&I Cup final) so it will be fascinating to see how they get on.

Another to have faith shown in him is Ben Marshall and I am delighted. He strikes me as an intelligent player around the loose and with McCarthy alongside him to get on with the darker arts, the Warriors may not be expecting what the youngster can bring to the table.

Then we have Dominic Ryan. I used to refer to himself, Jordi Murphy & Rhys Ruddock as "the Three Amigos" as a nod to Babb, McAteer & Kelly from soccer days of yore, and were it not for injury at the worst possible times, Dom's test career could well be as advanced as the other two. Again, this will be a perfect platform for him to show what he can do against the best as you can be sure Glasgow's back row of Harley, Fusaro and Strauss will be no slouches.

OK let's get the cliché warning sirens going folks...I think this 23 has a "perfect blend of youth and experience".  I feel a bit sick after typing that, but they are the best words I can use.

On Gopperth over Madigan, well we're all used to that by this stage, aren't we?  

I really don't think Matt O'Connor can be blamed for having his own thoughts on how the game should be played.  If we are to give out about his style and say it's "un-Leinster-like" then surely that is actually a slur on those who appointed him in the first place?  So if that's how you feel, direct your complaints to Mr Mick Dawson.

But as far as I'm concerned, Matt has told us what he plans to do with the squad, he has always made it clear that it was a work in progress, and the progress he was focusing on last season surrounded what we did on defence.  And for all of Joe Schmidt's brilliance, we needed it in that area.  

The changes that were brought in involved literally turning our systems inside out.  And yes, perhaps most will make reference to that horrible afternoon in Toulon but for the rest of the season when we weren't facing blank-chequebook-squads we conceded a hell of a lot fewer tries than the previous year AND retained the league title into the bargain.

I don't know about you, but I reckon that outcome has to earn O'Connor the right to finish what he started.

However...now that there is a new season, I'm not suggesting we simply ignore whatever happens between now and the start of the Rugby Champions Cup.  If I am happy to afford him allowances for concentrating on defence in the first season, I have to follow that up by expecting a more adventurous attacking plan this time around.  Because I will freely admit things were getting a bit tedious in attacking situations last season.

And you know what, Brendan Macken may be just the player to signal such an intent by the boys in blue.  Though we know that the supply to him at 13 from players like Gopperth and Reid won't be as frequent as with other "five-eigth" combos, when he does get the ball in full flight he can be hard to stop.

Among the worries I would have about Macken are things such as retaining the ball after the tackle and of course his own defensive positioning, but naturally this is where the coaching will come in and you expect each player to have honed in on their flaws when a new season comes around.

Going back to the pack, I have mentioned the two younger players so far but as for the rest of the starters...all I can say is WOW.  Healy, Cronin, Ross front row?  Jennings and O'Brien in and around the breakdown?  Formidable as the Warriors have become over recent years, they must be at least a bit apprehensive about our lineup.

Now to the bench...it would appear that the name McGrath is becoming to Leinster what Whitelock is for the Crusaders...on this occasion we have young Mick joining Jack and Luke as Leinster replacements.  Clearly Mick is being rewarded for a good preseason (which included a try at Franklin's Gardens) and he represents yet another to emerge off the Clontarf conveyor belt...what's more he's not alone as Bryan Byrne is ready to come on as hooker in Glasgow after having a good eye for the tryline in the B&I Cup.

As for the Warriors themselves, Gregor Townsend will have them fired up to take a big opening scalp in front of their home fans.  I don't see a whole lot in their squad to worry me too much...though after Cian Healy took the piss out of their tighthead Jon Welsh in the Pro12 final, it will be interesting to see how he gets on against Euan Murray.

In the second row they have Leone Nakarawa starting, he whom I call The Octopus for the way he's determined to offload no matter what his post-tackle situation.  If his game hasn't changed we should be well able for his antics.

An interesting selection is Stuart Hogg in the 22 jumper...I wonder if he is due to come on to play outhalf as he did on the Lions tour?

Whatever their gameplan or whatever their small amount of squad turnover on last season, you can be sure they'll be well organised and every point we put on the scoreboard will be well earned.

So you could say this one contest has the potential to contain everything we want to see from Leinster this season.  Promising youngsters and recognised senior talent, coming together to put the best of European opposition to the sword week in week out. 

We're not asking for much, are we?  Not at all.

I am of course as happy as any Leinster fan to see Johnny Sexton returning home (well, most Leinster fans...there's always a few boo-boys on the fringes) but before we get too carried away with the celebrations, let us not forget that he won't go near the famous blue jersey until November 2015 at the earliest.

From 5:15pm this Saturday, it's up to us to get fully behind Matt O'Connor and the players who are there now.  There may be more money floating around the rest of Europe these days, but we're still favourites to make it three in a row Pro12 and no matter who we have at 13 there will be few who will fancy facing us in Europe either.

Thank you for allowing me to harp on for the past few days, it has been fun getting back into the swing of it.  Let's see how fun it is writing up the match in Scotstoun next Monday! #COYBIB JLP


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