Friday, April 24, 2015

Preview - Ulster v Leinster

  

Ulster are favourites tonight.  I just want to get that fact out there first, now I will explain.

I have to assume that if Mr Cummiskey in the Irish Times thinks "not putting your real name above your words" (paraphrase) doesn't qualify as "journalistic integrity", then by implication, all his own offerings provide a perfect example of just that.  

So in an attempt to follow his lead here and thus upgrade my profile, I'm going to take a few online comments from Ulster fans about tonight's match in Belfast and assume it applies to all of them.

They seem to be playing a game of "big up the opposition" poker, and it has to be said that they have a pretty good opening wager with chips like "came close to beating Toulon", "reigning Pro12 champions", "3-time European champions" and "fielding a full-strength team tonight" to push forward.

Well I'd like to see that bet and raise them a whole lot of "2nd v 5th", "13 wins & 63pts vs 9 wins & 53pts", "2-week turnaround vs 5 days" and even the good old-fashioned "home advantage" token.  And what's more, the bookies agree.

Does that mean we haven't a prayer tonight?  Of course not.  But it's going to take pretty much every ounce of effort we managed in Marseille last week, possibly more as I very much doubt the Ulstermen will be as below par tonight as Toulon were last Sunday.

Of course as far as Ireland's World Cup chances are concerned, it's great to see Chris Henry back in action but as often is the case when these two teams come together the back row is going to be a primary battleground.  The very fact that Messrs (200-caps) Heaslip, O'Brien and Murphy (plus in the excellent Iain Henderson's case, Devin Toner) have gotten so much game time in the green jersey has to provide motivation for the home side, though it's not as though they need it.

Then we have an interesting battle at centre...on one side, the experience of D'Arcy with the explosiveness of Te'o while on the other, the try-scoring Darren Cave alongside Joe Schmidt's presumptive starting 13 Jared Payne.  The possibilities are endless as to how those two pairings will fare against each other.

Has Ian Madigan been dropped for "that" pass?  It certainly looks that way.   But while I have always preferred him to be our starting 10 and I still believe his overall game would be much better now if the coaching staff agreed, I'd only be really annoyed with his being on the bench tonight if he didn't at least get twenty minutes game time to get Marseille out of his system.

But the main reason I'm going with the Ulstermen as the favourites tonight is that I still don't see Leinster improving in the areas where we have struggled of late.

It's true we showed a lot of fight and drive to get our late try against Toulon but on top of that, the march up the field included one simple ingredient...we actually won the attacking lineout.  When it comes to that set piece in the opposition 22 we have been turned over way too many times since Christmas in particular, so sorry if I have harped on this too much in previews but we simply must retain our own ball if we're to be in with a hope of putting points on the board.

Yet even the above isn't where I fear we'll come out second best tonight the most.  I know we're not "allowed" to criticise Jimmy Gopperth any more than we are O'Connor but while I certainly haven't been his harshest critic, I still think that a large portion of our woes, particularly on the attacking side of things, find their source in our different 9/10 combinations, of which the Kiwi is a constant.

And tonight, he and Isaac Boss go face to face with no less than Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson, a tried and tested pairing and both of whom will be very keen to impress the Kingspan faithful.

So I'm going to go for a 6-point home win tonight, even further than the turf accountants who say 4.  Hopefully the fact that such a result would (probably) put the final nail in our season's coffin will be enough to motivate the lads to prove me wrong.

#COYBIB  JLP  (putting my initials below my words since 2008)

ULSTER : L Ludik; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar;
C Black, R Best (C), W Herbst, D Tuohy, F Van der Merwe, I Henderson, C Henry, R Wilson;
Replacements : R Herring, A Warwick, B Ross, R Diack, C Ross, P Marshall, I Humphreys, S McCloskey.

Guinness Pro12 - Round 20
At Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm 
Live on BBC NI/Sky Sports
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 44th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Olly Hodges (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU )
TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)
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