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)


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019