While I do agree it’s a good thing that all six of the final Pro12 “rubbers” have some life in them, I have to say it’s getting a bit tiresome hearing it from all quarters.
More often than not I’m sure it is meant to be a positive thing, but sometimes I think the point is made with a view to holding it up as justification for all the Heineken Cup palaver through the press from the past two years and I certainly wouldn’t be having any of that.
Anyway, from Leinster’s point of view there is definitely something worth playing for against Embra...a one in five chance of drawing Italians in our Champions Cup pool!!!
No, it really doesn’t get my juices flowing either, but it’s definitely not “nothing”. As you can see from the table below, if we drop to 6th we are guaranteed to wind up in the 4th pot in the draw meaning we could face the Mother of All Pools of Death, while if we finish 5th we will at least get a lower-ranked team - that could be Wasps or even what should then be Dan Carter’s Racing Metro, both of which would be equally tough and ironic, but also, as I say, it could be Treviso.
numbers 1-6 indicate league finish in Pro12, Premiership & Top14
So it’s not as though there’s only pride to play for, and I have to say that this has to be our most intriguing matchday 23 of the campaign.
I’m pretty sure I wasn't alone all season in looking at the lineup when it’s announced and despairing when I saw that Gopperth was to start at number 10 yet again. And as I have harped on many times before, this isn’t because I don’t feel the Kiwi has anything to contribute to Leinster and I certainly wish him all the best for his future, it’s just I don’t believe he has played with the consistency required to retain his starting position when we do have other options available.
And top of the list of those options is Ian Madigan, though it is of course a shame he is once again getting a very narrow window of opportunity to show what he can do, unlike his rival for the Irish 22 jumper Paddy Jackson. Still, this is 80 minutes he needs to make the most of and hopefully he will be allowed do so and Gopperth will only be called on if absolutely necessary.
Strangely though, despite all I have said this season about our half-backs, it’s not the change there that surprises me the most. After persevering with Ben Te’o since Christmas at 13 with Madigan and Darcy, we’ll be lining out in Murrayfield with a completely different centre pairing of Noel Reid and Collie O’Shea and I have to say that’s a fascinating prospect.
Now we musn’t forget that Embra’s season isn’t done yet either...they can still mathematically catch the Scarlets for automatic European qualification though more realistically they’d be aiming to make the playoffs ahead of Connacht, so you can be sure they will be up for the match. For this reason, while I am looking forward to seeing the Reid/O’Shea axis perform with the ball, I have concerns over how they handle that key channel without it - hopefully they can put them to rest.
Other interesting names are on the Leinster bench - Luke McGrath is another who could have done with a few more starting chances this season while it has certainly been a week of celebration for Cian Kelleher; winning the AIL title with Lansdowne, picking up the league’s “rising star” gone and now he sports the 23 Leinster jersey with the chance of earning his first senior cap, an honour his talent richly deserves.
Things are a lot more experienced in our pack and it’s just as well because that’s where we could be tested. Our first-up tackling will need to be on-song with the darting runs of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to keep us honest (one Welsh journalist claims SHC is a shoo-in to start for the Lions in 2017 by the way) and I have said it all season so why should this week be any different….we MUST win our own set pieces and particularly in attacking situations, smart plays have to be called and executed.
The bookies have us sneaking it by 2. Maybe it’s delusions from my good form this weather/lack of sleep all week (thanks again for all the good wishes from the last writeup by the way) but I’m feeling good about our chances tomorrow. I reckon we’ll win by 6-8 and come away feeling like we deserved more.
And as I hinted earlier it’s not just for ourselves we’d be winning - no doubt the men from Connacht would thank us for making it an 8 point victory at the very least so they can sneak into that playoff position themselves whatever happens in their own match. I certainly hope they at least get a shot at European rugby next season and they wouldn’t hold too many fears going to Kingsholm the following week, especially when they know victory will bring a cracking season finale to Galway.
Then of course we have the race for the title itself. Right now I’m sensing a Glasgow v Munster final but it’s so tight at the top that you wouldn’t even be sure if home advantage would work too much in favour for any of the four.
But however jealous this Leinster blogger may be of the other provinces, there is no doubt that I am wishing them all the best for the weeks ahead. An Ulster v Munster final at a sold-out Kingspan with Connacht hosting a Top14 club like Montpellier wouldn’t be a bad way to end the 2014/15 campaign, that’s for sure! Rule it out at your peril.
1 Alasdair Dickinson 2 Ross Ford 3 John Andress 4 Anton Bresler 5 Ben Toolis 6 Fraser McKenzie 7 Hamish Watson 8 Cornell Du Preez
Substitutes 16 Neil Cochrane 17 Rory Sutherland 18 Simon Berghan 19 Ollie Atkins 20 James Hilterbrand 21 Nathan Fowles 22 Jade Te Rure 23 Tom Brown
Guinness Pro 12 2014/15 - Round 22
Saturday, May 16, 2015
At BT Murrayfield, 3pm.
Live on BBC Alba
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 125th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Andrew McMenemey, Graeme Wells (both SRU)
Citing Commissioner: John Kirk (SRU)
TMO: Iain Ramage (SRU)