Earlier in the week I wrote a preview piece for the IRFU “In Touch” magazine so it’s fair to say my opinions won’t have changed that much in a couple of days. Still...I’m bound to have a few thoughts now that the team has been picked so here we go!
First of all...the overall mindset for Leinster fans going into this contest HAS to be positive. Sure, the season hasn’t been ideal from our standards but it is imperative that we leave the doom and gloom behind us as we head to the Aviva Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t be honest about our opinion...for example, this isn’t the team I would have picked, certainly not in the backs. I’d have gone with 15 R Kearney 14 Z Kirchner 13 L Fitzgerald 12 G DArcy 11 F McFadden 10 I Madigan 9 E Reddan, with Boss, Gopperth & D Kearney on the bench. It’s so different I reckon it’s worth mentioning BUT I think, or at least hope, I can see what we’re going for with our matchday 23.
So here are four headings I reckon are key for us tomorrow...
I put this first for a reason. Simply put, I firmly believe that if we can at least win our own ball at scrums & lineouts we will win this match. Our tight-eight situations were the one positive note during that poor Six Nations run but for all the (justified) talk about the return of Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip to our lineup, it’s Devin Toner who could be our most prodigal son.
Bath have been reminding us about their “un-Premiership-like” attacking style all week and the one place they will seek to utilise this most will surely be in transition situations. Ford, Eastmond, Watson, Joseph and Burgess are all dangers from deep and if we hand the ball back to them from set pieces we could find ourselves chasing the game again.
We will always be a bit nervous about Sean Cronin’s darts but a combination of Toner’s presence plus his astute lineout calls having learned from the best in Messrs Cullen & O’Connell should make our hooker’s life easier.
This is the reason why I selected my backline as I did earlier. I am in favour of the Ben Te’o Experiment to continue but I never dreamed he would be used in a crunch match such as this one, especially with the opposition posing such an attacking threat as Bath do.
But...we’re being positive this weekend, so while I still have reservations about our defensive coverage in the 13 channel, they could well be outdone by my hopes for the next point.
I listed off some attacking threats in the Bath lineup earlier. Now it’s time to list ours. Rob Kearney, Fitzgerald, McFadden, Te’o, Madigan, Cronin, Healy, O’Brien & Murphy are all proven gainline breakers so our options are seemingly endless - it’s up to our halfbacks to get them where they need to be. And I haven’t even mentioned skipper Jamie “Wolverine” Heaslip, though I reckon he will have his hands full keeping the Bath back row at bay.
The visitors may have the best defensive record in the Premiership (just 33 tries conceded in 18 matches) but of the eight Champions Cup quarterfinalists, they conceded the most points in the qualifying phase (though to be fair, their 108 wasn’t far off our own 101!). Plus, while they overcame Glasgow in their final pool match to impressively pinch top spot, their vulnerability to scores down the other end was evident and it’s crucial that we exploit this on the day.
I feel a bit bad mocking Jerome Garces’ accent with the title but it will be a key feature at the weekend. Against Glasgow last Friday, Cian Healy helped us back into the match by goading Niko Matawalu into earning a sinbinning. Bath have a similar card magnet in Francois Louw - not that we have none and Healy himself is one, but whoever can avoid tempting cards from the pocket could go a long way to deciding this one as it will provide the space craved by the two attacking backlines.
What I do each week is think of my own scoreline before checking the bookies. For the first time this season, we are in agreement. I have Leinster by four. I’m not ruling out our taking the game by the scruff of the neck and putting the visitors away early much like the last time they visited the Aviva, but hopefully you’ll see it as realism rather than negativity when I say I think we could be in for another bum-squeaker.
Right….that’s enough harping on tactics and predictions and what-not. Time to click into fan mode. The jersey is washed & ready as are the other head-to-toe blue items of clothing for the day. There’s even talk of my losing my face paint virginity. My ticket is left in it’s regular spot where even a scatterbrain like me couldn’t leave the house without it.
Come 3:15pm Saturday we need tens of thousands of screaming Leinster fans fully behind the boys in blue. Tickets are still available….go on, follow this link and join us, you know it makes sense. I’ll see you there, and maybe for a post-match scoop or two afterwards as well.
Let’s do this!!!
PS - Best wishes to Connacht and their supporters tonight as well for their big match over in Kingsholm. Useless fact...they were away to Gloucester the same weekend as the last time we played Bath at the Aviva.
1 Paul James 2 Rob Webber 3 Kane Palma-Newport 4 Stuart Hooper © 5 Dave Attwood 6 Carl Fearns 7 Francois Louw 8 Leroy Houston
Replacements 16 Ross Batty 17 Nick Auterac 18 Max Lahiff 19 Matt Garvey 20 Alafoti Faosiliva 21 Peter Stringer 22 Sam Burgess 23 Tom Homer
European Rugby Champions Cup Quarterfinal
At Aviva Stadium, Saturday, April 4, 3:15pm.
Live on BT Sport
Referee Jerome Garces (France)
Touch Judge 1 Christophe Berdos(France)
Touch Judge 2 Patrick Pechambert(France)
Fourth Official Maxime Chalon (France)
TMO Eric Gauzins (France)
Citing Commissioner Yves Thieffine(France)