Friday, April 10, 2015

Preview : NG Dragons v Leinster

A lot can happen between a preview published Friday afternoon and a Sunday evening kickoff.  Like all four teams above Leinster winning with a try bonus, for example.
Now it seems that we have reached the point where we mus accept that a fifth-place position on the ladder is our destiny.  And sorry to make for an even bigger downer but failing to reach the semifinals is not the only consequence.
Finishing fifth means that we are virtually certain to be in "pot four" in the draw for next season's Rugby Champions Cup, which means we are likely to face a pool which is similar to that in which Munster found themselves this season, ie containing two semifinalists from the previous campaign.
So clearly that is disappointing, but while I'm still not ruling out our chances in Marseille, should the bookies be right in their 11-point spread and our season is effectively over next Sunday evening, here's hoping we at least take the opportunity in our final few matches to give fringe players some first team action.
And I can even find some more silver linings (albeit very very thin ones...) to not reaching the top four...with the new calendar structure, whatever happens in Europe Leinster's Ireland contingent are guaranteed an extra couple of weeks rest and if we can take off the Leinster hat and don a Pro12 one for a moment, it's hardly the worst thing for the league to be guaranteed a playoff series without us for once.  Provided they don't think they'll get used to that, of course! ;-) thoughts below on this evening's match remain pretty much the same, so by all means read on if you haven't already.
So...Leinster are to play a team called the Dragons on the same day as the new season of Game of Thrones kicks off.  
No doubt if we had enough budget here at HoR Manor for a fully-staffed graphics department we'd cobble together an impressive video intro to our preview adapting the opening sequence from the show and naturally making full comedic use of the fact that "Leinster" sounds like "Lannister".
But we don't, so on we go.  Maybe instead you can hum the theme tune to yourself while reading?
First of all, can I concur with all the general opinion around the Irish twittersphere that Leinster can in fact win in Marseille next weekend - despite all the negativity (much of it stemming from the last time we played the Dragons) only someone that George Hook would consider a "curmudgeon" would completely write us off even if Toulon ARE the two-time reigning champions and could arguably field an invincible team made up of players who WON'T feature in the semifinal.
So with that positive attitude in mind, Matt O'Connor had two choices with this match in Newport...field a team very close to the one he intends to use in the semifinal with a view to giving them more game time together and/or try out a more attacking approach, or he could take out the cotton wool and ensure himself a well rested squad for next week.  It would appear he has gone for the latter.
Now of course there is also the argument that despite the fact that we have a mountain to climb to reach the top four (some might even say top six isn't in the bag), we must not only look to avenge the Dragons' triumph in Dublin last February but also do so with the try bonus point to keep up the pressure on those ahead of us on the table.  And when you add our recent offensive woes to the amount of chopping and changing done to our side this week, you can't exactly see where those tries are coming from.
If we were thinking of resting anyone this weekend, I would have thought Jimmy Gopperth might at least drop to the bench with someone like Cathal Marsh given a chance but then again it could be too late in the season for that so it seems we'll have to squeeze every minute we can out of the Kiwi as the clock runs out on his Leinster stint.  It also seems Ben Te'o can assume possession of our 13 jumper is his for the remainder of the campaign whatever happens.
So basically it would appear that we're going to truck it up through the forwards and hope for penalties yet again.  As always, not the way I would play it, but this is a pudding that won't find proof until a week from Sunday so I for one will be holding my tongue until then. 
When it comes to the Dragons, well they have their own semifinal to think about next weekend and just a five-day turnaround into the bargain so while their, shall we say, "passionate" following won't exactly say no to completing the double over the reigning league champions, they also have their European distractions, though the inclusion of Toby Faletau to their pack can't go unnoticed.
The bookies have us 5 point winners.  If we can somehow find cohesiveness from the kickoff together with the home side being below par then we can beat that spread, maybe even nick a fourth try from somewhere.   But if we don't put our stamp on this match in the early stages it could get away from us.
Once again I'm hoping our scrum will keep us there or thereabouts and for my prediction I'll go for a tense 3 point win but not with a bonus.  Yeah, I know, I said I was being positive today, but I meant about the Toulon game!!!  We seem to have made this weekend's match very losable and I really hope I'm wrong!
PS here's a comment from John Molloy on the HoR Facebook page with a good interpretation of Leinster's selection...
We're targeting Ulster the week after the Toulon game. They are the side that we're most likely to overtake to make the play-offs. That game is 5 days after the Toulon game meaning we need to rest players for 1 of those 3. This game is the right one to select. If we lose it then yes we'll fail to make the play-offs. But if we win and lose to Ulster in Belfast then we fail to make the play-offs as well. This is the right call, frustrating and all as it is. It should be a good enough side to beat Dragons but it's a huge risk given our form this season. Sadly there's no getting away from that because of our poor results up to now.
DRAGONS : Jason Tovey, Tom Prydie, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos, Dorian Jones, Jonathan Evans; 
Phil Price, T.Rhys Thomas (c), Brok Harris, James Thomas, Cory Hill, Nick Crosswell, Nic Cudd, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Rhys Buckley, Luke Garrett, Dan Way, Matthew Screech, James Benjamin, Luc Jones, Pat Leach, Geraint Rhys Jones.
Guinness Pro 12 2014/15 - Round 19
At Rodney Parade, 4.15pm Live on S4C
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR 39th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Sean Brickell (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Dennis Jones (WRU)
TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)


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