Friday, October 17, 2014

Preview - Leinster v Wasps

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WASPS : 15. Andrea Masi 14. Christian Wade 13. Elliot Daly 12. Alapati Leiua 11. Sailosi Tagicakibau 10. Andy Goode 9. Joe Simpson
1. Matt Mullan 2. Carlo Festuccia 3. Lorenzo Cittadini 4. Joe Launchbury 5. Bradley Davies 6. Ashley Johnson 7. James Haskell (C) 8. Nathan Hughes 
16. Tom Lindsay 17. Simon McIntyre 18. Jake Cooper-Woolley 19. James Gaskell 20. Sam Jones 21. Charlie Davies 22. Rob Miller 23. Chris Bell


Sunday 19th October 2014, KO 17:15
RDS Arena , Dublin Live on BT Sport1

Referee: Leighton Hodges
AR1 : Sean Brickell (Wal)
AR2 : Simon Rees (Wal)
TMO : Derek Bevan (Wal)


It used to be called the Heineken Cup.  Now it's called the European Rugby Champions Cup with Heineken as the only official sponsor.

Well, whatever you want to call it, I'm happy Heineken are still involved and you can bet it will take a long, long time for fans to get used to saying the new name, if indeed they ever do.

But to make it even harder for us, Heineken will be selling some specially-commissioned bottles this Sunday at the Bridge 1859 bar near the RDS to celebrate their continued involvement in this great tournament.

Looks like I'm stalling my preview, doesn't it?  Well I guess I am in a way.  This match shouldn't have me worried but after the team was announced this lunchtime it's really starting to.

Earlier in the week on Newstalk's "Off The Ball" I heard their presenter Joe Molloy talking about the way Matt O'Connor would talk about the "lack of accuracy" from his side as being the main reason behind Leinster's stuttering start to the campaign.  Joe seemed unsure exactly what was meant by the word "accuracy".  Allow me to offer a suggestion.

Basically what I think Matt is saying is "We as coaches have gotten the gameplan right, it's just that the players haven't been able to execute properly".

We've had an ongoing discussion on this site about O'Connor's tenure at Leinster...some say he needs to go now.  Most disagree, but even of those, more and more are starting to question his decision-making.  One thing is definitely for sure...he is under an increasing amount of pressure.

Sure, there have been injuries.  You probably don't want me to reel them off again but I fear I must...Cian Healy, Sean O'Brien, Shane Jennings, Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore, Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden, and today the list grows longer with Rob Kearney and Mike Ross.

Luke Fitzgerald is back on the bench - that's good news, right?  Well, on face value of course it is but we've been here before.  Sorry to be cynical about it but I'll believe he's ready to return when I see him take the field.

Still, Matt must deserve at least a little bit of slack for being denied all that talent, and this is one of the reasons why I'm not joining calls for his departure just yet.

But before the season started I was defending him based on his own words...as he took up the role in 2013 he said his first goal was to improve the defence and the stats prove he did get results in that area.  It followed, however, that the challenge for this season was to crack on and get Leinster's offence back where it needs to be.

Even I can't argue that this has happened, and for me, injuries can't be used as an excuse for this.  In my writeup last Monday I showed just how slow we have been getting off the ground in matches this season - sure, we have won three matches and clawed back a bonus point in Glasgow with improved second half displays, but that won't be good enough in Europe.

For me, the true pressure on Matt O'Connor's Leinster is to start this game with an approach that looks like it was designed to build a decent platform against the opposition on the day.  That doesn't mean I won't be happy if we haven't run in at least three tries by half-time, but just that we are being smart with the ball and putting it in the right areas.

As for Wasps' side of the equation, our secret agent has given us reports on their form all season for our "Eye Spy" feature; here's what he thought of their win over Bath last Sunday...
A lot is being made about Wasps' win last weekend but they were able to build a 29-0 lead on the back of Bath's poor discipline as well as an inability to take advantage of red zone possession in the early stages, an area where Leinster have also struggled.  
Goode is very average at 10 these days and despite the scoreline, Wasps' offence also struggled - they needed 2 Bath men off the park to start scoring tries.   Of course they have loads of pace on the wings but in 15 man game it takes a lot of work to create space for them.
Their defence can be strong up the middle but it's shaky against a good kick chase as was shown with Bath's first try with just 13 men off a restart and they managed to turn 29-point deficit into a losing bonus point in the final half-hour. 
They do have a strong pack though, especially in the scrum and this will improve further with addition of Launchbury.   
VERDICT - If the Leinster forwards can at least achieve parity at setpieces & breakdown in the early stages they should get on top of this one.
That report not only tallies with my impressions on Wasps from earlier in the season, but also from what I saw when we got past them in the Amlin quarterfinal in 2013.  They will put points on the board but for every one they do, they're just as likely to ship at least one down the other end if not more.

On form this season, Jimmy Gopperth is not the man we need at 10 to build the early lead I mentioned earlier.  Now I know Ian Madigan took a while to unlock the Zebre defence last week, but that was his first, and only, start at out-half.  Maybe it could be argued that O'Connor's hands have been tied by the Rob Kearney injury but still it's clear who the coach prefers at that position, and this is where I would disagree with him the most.

In the pack, the selection of Sean Cronin over Richardt Strauss has me worried for scrum-time.  Wasps will surely target the set-piece and with our third-choice tight head starting, Cronin's reluctance to hook could negate the benefits of his strong ball-carrying game.

Then there's the back row.  Rhys Ruddock, Dom Ryan and in particular Jamie Heaslip will know full well that they were outplayed against Munster and in Johnson, Haskell and Hughes they have equally formidable opposition.  Simply put, if they can't raise their game they'll be lost but there's no denying all three have the ability and I for one am backing them to do so.

All of this means that if pushed for a prediction, I'll still go for a Leinster win, but by no means a comfortable one - if there is to be a bonus point gained on the day it should go to the visitors.  It's up to the lads to prove me wrong, and by that I mean a bigger margin of victory of course!

One thing is for sure...I definitely did not expect to be as apprehensive as I am about this fixture, and the extra wait until Sunday evening certainly won't help!

Maybe the A match tonight will help the time go by...

LEINSTER A V JERSEY,
British & Irish Cup, Donnybrook Stadium, Friday October 17, 8pm NOTE NEW KICKOFF TIME


15. Cian Kelleher 14. Sam Coghlan Murray 13. Rory O'Loughlin 12. Steve Crosbie 11. Adam Byrne 10. Ross Byrne 9. Luke McGrath
1. Peter Dooley 2. Bryan Byrne 3. Oisin Heffernan 4. Tom Denton CAPTAIN 5. Ross Molony 6. Ben Marshall 7. Josh van der Flier 8. Jordan Coghlan
Replacements 16. Aaron Dundon 17. Brian McGovern 18. Gavin Thornbury 19. Nick Timoney 20. Nick McCarthy 21. Cathal Marsh 22. Tom Farrell


Girvan Dempsey would probably be disappointed with the result from last week as it seemed we were well on our way to a 5-0 split of match points at Plymouth and it ended up being 4-1 but an away win is a good way to start any tournament.

Tonight's lineup has a lot of names who have done well in Pro12 appearances like Luke McGrath, Bryan Byrne and Josh van der Flier, and there is plenty in reserve on the bench as Aaron Dundon, Cathal Marsh and Tom Farrell are set to return from varying spells on the sidelines.

Ross Byrne will be pulling the strings at 10 though I wonder if he will share the 80 minutes with Marsh.  On the wings Sam Coghlan-Murray and Adam Byrne have been potent weapons for the A side so far and no doubt they will be hungry for more chances on the plastic surface, though the forecast said it could well be a rainy night in Donnybrook.

Jersey have won on the road this season in the Championship at the Bedford Blues but that is their only win of the league campaign so far...they did put away Carmarthen Quins in this B&I pool last week but tonight's challenge surely must be a bigger one for them.

Unless we let the conditions get the better of us Leinster A should get the better of the visitors comfortably enough.

*****

Hey, there's a lot of negativity in this preview I know but it won't stop me shouting for Leinster this weekend!  Let's get behind the boys and I'll see you down the RDS!

#COYBIB JLP

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