Friday, March 27, 2015

Preview : Leinster v Glasgow

 

Much has been written about the way Paul O'Connell motivated the Irish squad to help them both get over the disappointment in Cardiff and prepare them for their task in Edinburgh.   And of course we all know about the famous "Enfield accord" back in December 2008 when the topic of provincial cliques was aired out among the squad.

The thing about air-clearing sessions like that is you probably only hear about them when they produce results...both of those I mentioned above produced Six Nations titles.

I wonder if there was any chance of there being a similar type intervention happening behind the scenes after Leinster's well-below-par series of matches in February & March?  If not, they most certainly needed one.  For at a time when we probably had the strongest squad available for that time of year, we came out of it with just 8 out of the 20 points on offer, a pace that certainly won't get us anywhere near the top four.

Well, going by the media appearances this week, the approach would appear to be "business as usual" in the Leinster camp, and the quotes from Matt O'Connor about dissatisfaction with the player protection system certainly don't bode well about the overall mood.

All of which makes tonight's Ireland v Scotland matchup the polar opposite of last Saturday's test at Murrayfield.

For although the bookies are backing Leinster to make their home advantage count tonight with a 6-point victory, I wish I could be as sure.

It's not as though we don't have the talent throughout the squad...but as the saying goes "you're only as good as your last match" and there was plenty of talent on show against the Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets not too long ago, and the performances simply did not match it.

Plus there is the fact that I am disappointed, if not surprised, that once again Jimmy Gopperth has been selected at out-half.  I have nothing against him as a player, and I don't necessarily hold with the view that he has been "over worked" by Leinster this season, but I just feel that our biggest problems this season have come from an inability to adapt our offensive strategy to suit the team we're facing, and more often than not he has been the creative general.

Instead, the coach has gone with him at 10 and Ian Madigan at 12, which would seem to be the formation he is looking to field against Bath next week also.

Now I'm not saying this lineup cannot work.  Of course we can't rule out their clicking tonight.  But based on the evidence we have seen this season, they have struggled to keep the required standards going for 80 minutes and tonight more than any other we have Pro12 opposition who will make the most of any shortcomings.

You can be sure that if we succumb once more to what I call the "knock-on gremilns", Gregor Townsend's side, featuring a lot more bodies from last weekend than our does it has to be said, are likely to forego the scrum where they can and make maximum hay out of the sunshine from our transition to defensive mode.  Basically if we struggle with the ball as we have done in recent outings it could result in at least a 10-point swing to the Warriors, and good luck with our chasing that!

Look...I'm sorry for all the doom and gloom.  Those last few displays took a big chunk of my optimism from me, but it is not all gone.

If ball-carrying prowess is the way we wish to go tonight, then we certainly have plenty of it.  Conan, Murphy, Te'o, Madigan, & McFadden are all known for breaking the gainline while in reserve we have the likes of Cronin, Healy and Fitzgerald.

Then we have set-pieces...one positive area in that 4-game spell has been our scrum so if we're to have any hope of getting things going with the ball tonight we'll need that and our lineout to function.

Finally there's the x factor which the likes of Dave Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald can bring.  Because as tight-knit a group as the Warriors may be, they too are bound to make the odd mistake and we certainly have the ability in our ranks to take advantage.  So please don't think I have written us off altogether tonight.  

But it really is becoming a "last-chance saloon" for us in the Pro12, for with no disrespect to the opponents (particularly Connacht) of the teams around us on the table chasing top four positions, defeat tonight could leave us with a six-point gap to close just to get into the top four, something that will not be easy to do in  four remaining matches, three of them away.  So in many ways, tonight's clash is every bit as much a knockout contest as the one at the Aviva next week.

That do-or-die aspect gives me hope, enough to just about predict a Leinster victory, though I can't go further than a one or two point margin.  

One thing is for sure...we can't do it without the full backing of the RDS faithful, so let's be sure to give them all the support we can out there tonight.  See you there!

If you can't make it to the RDS tonight, tune in here to HarpinOnRugby where we'll be live-blogging the match starting at 7pm.

#COYBIB JLP

GLASGOW : 15. Stuart Hogg 14. Tommy Seymour 13. Mark Bennett 12. Peter Horne 11. DTH van der Merwe 10. Finn Russell 9. Niko Matawalu
1. Alex Allan 2. Fraser Brown 3. Zander Fagerson 4.Tim Swinson 5. Al Kellock (Captain) 6. Rob Harley 7. Chris Fusaro 8. Josh Strauss
Replacements: 16. Pat MacArthur 17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa 18. Mike Cusack 19. Jonny Gray 20. Adam Ashe 21. Henry Pyrgos 22. Connor Braid 23. Richie Vernon

Guinness PRO12 2014/15 - Round 18
At RDS Arena, 7.35pm. 
Live on TG4 and BBC Scotland 
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 121st competition game)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Barry Kieran (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)
TMO: Seamus Fannery (IRFU)

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