Friday, September 04, 2015

Preview : Edinburgh v Leinster


logo post blueDon’t you just love the way sport keeps throwing irony at you left, right and centre?

First we have all the problems encountered at Murrayfield with the tiny wriggly organisms eating the pitch while that’s not the reason Embra are switching away from their usual home this time, I’m still affording myself a wry smile that the ground they’ve gone for is called Maggotland.  Ok, maybe it’s not QUITE called that, but it’s close enough.

Then we have Leinster playing their first competitive match under their new coaching ticket against the exact same team against which we finished last season.  And while we’ll be looking for improvements on last year’s performance at virtually every turn, I’m pretty sure Leo Cullen would take your arm off if you offered him the 36-25 bonus-point triumph we recorded back on May 16.

Yet while my attention should be drawn towards the different combinations in the starting lineup when I look at Leo’s first matchday squad, I can’t help but be intrigued by the selection of young Garry Ringrose at 23.

Now please don’t get me wrong...I have absolutely nothing at all against the chap and I for one am happy to see his name on the bench.  Having watched him excel for Blackrock College in the 2013 Leinster Schools Cup final and also for Ireland in both Six Nations and Junior World Championship, it is pretty clear he not only has the talent but also the temperament for the highest level.

And when you have someone with such promise, there’s no better way to get them ready for the highest level (and from the look of things he’s already on Joe Schmidt’s radar) than to chuck him in at the deep end as soon as possible...perhaps I have to admit I’m surprised it’s quite this soon, but still it’s a fascinating statement of intent from the coaching ticket and we’ll see how it works out on the night.

But going back to those starting combinations...I’m delighted that Luke McGrath and Cathal Marsh have been entrusted with the creative roles to kick start our season - it shows an immense amount of confidence in the pair and they certainly have been patiently playing the waiting game in the successful British & Irish Cup squad in recent years.

Elsewhere in the backline we certainly have the most experienced back three we can put in the park with Nacewa, McFadden and Fanning taking to the field, it’s just I thought Adam Byrne and particularly Mick McGrath impressed last week and I might have had the latter in ahead of Fanning (though I’m certainly not as opposed to his selection as many seem to be - he certainly does know how to find the try line).

Then we have the centres...yesterday I pondered the future of Ben Te’o at Leinster...basically I think we should make the most out of him while he’s here while still paying mind to the fact that he probably won’t stay and thus we need to be sure a replacement is ready to step in.  For now, I think his partnership with Noel Reid is a good one that should continue.

To the pack we go, and I’ll start with the back row where I feel we will be most tested tonight.  Dan Leavy is one who has been rewarded for a good preseason with a start and he, skipper Locky and Jack Conan will face a decent challenge by the Embra trio of du Preez, their own captain Grant and new signing from the Super Rugby champion Highlanders, Nasi Manu.  We have Dominic Ryan in reserve and we could well need good shifts from all four to stay competitive up front.

Moving to the front row now, and I think Aaron Dundon has a real opportunity to shine over the coming weeks.  Despite having Messrs Cronin and Strauss firmly ahead of him in the pecking order I have always felt he tends to take his chances when he gets them, and this in particular is going to be a prolonged one.  Either side of him at scrum time are Michael Bent, who fell short of the full Ireland squad yet again, and Australia-bound Jamie Hagan.

Then at lock we have a solid pairing of Tom Denton and Mike McCarthy.  The former gets a lot of bad writeups but I think this is a lazy narrative going back to when he first arrived at Leinster.  I thought he put his head down and had several decent outings last season and deserves his starting berth now.

As well as Ringrose and Ryan in reserve we also have Ross Byrne, who incidentally was the Michael’s out-half for that schools final I mentioned earlier.  He’s a shade behind Marsh in the pecking order but has shown he can run a decent backline for the Wolfpuppies this year and will no doubt be itching to get his chance tonight.

Prediction time.  This is tougher than usual because it’s hard to judge the opposition not being too aware of their depth with so many in the World Cup squad.  Though while my instincts tell me Leinster talent pool runs deeper, I’d be worried about referee Peter Fitzgibbon.  He doesn’t seem to handle these “I’m trying to forget the fact that I’m from the same country as the visiting team” situations very well which means it could well be one that goes to the wire.

The bookies seem to agree with me on that score, shading it to the home side by 2.  I’m going the other way to give Leo and the boys a vote of confidence...I have us by 4.  Best of luck to all involved and here’s to a successful new era.  JLP



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