Maybe I’m instinctively keeping all my “positive thinking” mojo in reserve for the Ireland squad ahead of Sunday’s quest for history but I have to say, even with all the doom and gloom we went through as Leinster fans last season, I don’t think I have ever felt less confident of a Leinster victory in all the years I have run this site.
Now first and foremost I have to make it clear that this is not a reflection on how I think we have played so far this season - on the contrary I have seen plenty to make me feel good about the future and what’s more I have said so in my writeups like this most recent one when we played the Dragons.
The main reasons I can’t see us coming away from Llanelli with much tonight are twofold - the opposition and, much as I hate to say it, the ref.
First let’s have a look at the Scarlets. Top of the league, three wins out of three with two of those on foreign soil including an opening day raid on the home of the reigning champions. And at a time when the Welsh national team are bemoaning their injury count, they are able to actually add to their already impressive squad with none other than flying winger DTH van der Merwe, who could arguably have started in a “Team of Pool D” selection despite his Canadian side not winning a single match.
When you contrast this additional quality to that which has been taken out of Leinster’s squad in Rhys Ruddock and Mike McCarthy via World Cup call-ups, plus the midweek knock picked up by Ben Te’o, we are left with a 23 high on talent and promise but low enough on experience.
Of COURSE I’m not suggesting I have no faith at all in our squad. There is some experience out there, like Isa and Ferg, there is some proven talent in Marty Moore and Dom Ryan, and there is some promising talent which has done well in recent weeks like van der Flier, Leavy and Ringrose. It’s just a gut feeling that the changes from the last outing, plus the travelling, PLUS the fact the opposition are on top form, don’t seem to augur well.
This down-playing of our chances isn’t the ideal way to welcome Ross Byrne to the starting XV, of course, and I do wish him all the best. He has shown at Irish Under-20 level that he knows how to get a backline moving and I have no doubt that our new permanent backs coach Girvan Dempsey will have him as ready as he can. It’s just that this is a considerable step up from the Under 20s Six Nations.
And as much as I dislike dragging officials into it, on this occasion I fear I must. Whatever about his overall abilities as a ref, Peter Fitzgibbon does not appear to handle these “I’m from the same country as the visitors so I don’t want to look biased” occasions very well, so consistency may be an issue tonight.
So while the bookies are going with a 7-point win for the Welsh region, I hate to say it but I’d almost be happy with a losing bonus point. Unfortunately I fear the margin could or perhaps even should be closer to one of the thumpings we have suffered at Parc y Scarlets in the past, the only difference being is that this time we might have seen it coming. I’ll go with a home win by 12-14. Naturally I will gladly tuck into humble pie if proven wide of the mark, just you wait.
Wow, I really have been negative with this preview haven’t I? Predicting a double-digit Leinster defeat doesn’t sit well here at Harpin Manor I assure you. Better make my Ireland one a lot more “Glass-half-full” to compensate! Though I think I can manage that pretty comfortably while staying genuine. Let’s keep the fingers crossed that whatever the results for the provinces this could still be an historic weekend for Irish rugby. JLP
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