Of course the focus of the rugby world is on Twickenham this weekend and that is exactly as it should be, but such is the cluttered nature of the European rugby calendar that as provincial supporters we also have matches to follow, and this particular Pro12 series has plenty to capture our interest.
This evening at Thomond Park we have the season’s first interprovincial as Munster host Ulster in what for me anyway is a battle far more worthy of my attention than the “bronze final” for which I can see absolutely no point whatsoever.
But this is meant to be a Leinster preview so let’s harp on that shall we.
This latest Leo Cullen matchday 23 catches the eye mostly because of the amount of RWC returnees - of course putting aside the Cardiff disappointment once and for all, it is great to see them all back in blue, particularly Mr J Sexton. But at the risk of being a killjoy I feel the need to point out that there is very little time for drawn-out welcomes for these lads - Europe kicks off in a couple of weeks and we don’t need reminding who is in our pool.
Over the first five rounds of this season’s Pro 12 we have seen the team do very well for the most part and while we’re in 6th place on the table we find ourselves just 2pts off the top 4 and 6 off of 1st so we’re well placed.
And we have certainly seen plenty of evidence during that 400 minutes of rugby that we’re tightening things up on defence, adventurous enough on offence and relatively ok with our set-pieces. So now it’s a question of how we manage to both fold the elite talent back into the squad, reward those who have done well up to now, and maintain the upward curve of our overall performances.
Naturally Sexton will be a key element to our progress and it was good to see him receive an element of official seniority today as along with Jamie Heaslip he was named club vice captain. Isa as squad skipper makes as perfect sense due to his experience plus the fact he will be at the province throughout the season. But affording Sexton a title also works as his on-pitch style pretty much speaks of leadership anyway.
But in actual fact the most interesting name on the team-sheet for me is that of Luke Fitzgerald at 12. That is most definitely a role Luke can play, though with the success Noel Reid has had with Ben Te’o I might have thought having Ian Madigan slot in would be more a more seamless transition - it will be interesting to see how this centre pairing gets on.
The pack bears little or no resemblance to that we have seen in recent weeks but there is certainly an abundance of talent. Hayden Triggs makes his debut and we really need him to hit the ground running for us. Ross Molony and Tadhg Beirne have done well for the senior squad but when it comes to European time we’ll need every bit of Triggs’ Super Rugby experience even if it is to be off the bench.
In the front row we bizarrely get to fully name starters AND (as Michael Cheika calls them) finishers from the same World Cup squad. So it’s not as though they haven’t been used to working together for the past few months!
When it comes to the back row I personally thought they could have added a third name to the list of vice captains, namely Rhys Ruddock. It just struck me that having made the announcement of the senior players, for our very first match we have none of them in the pack.
Now don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of experience and seniority in our forwards and I have no doubt a pack leader will be named on the day, this is just me being a stickler. Rhys, Jordi and Jack should do a fine job coping with the likes of Zanni on Sunday and they have an in-form Josh VDF off the bench if required.
On the subject of Treviso, well - they are rock bottom of the league with a big duck egg in the W column but every Leinster fan knows they can put in a performance against us and the fact they have 4 losing bonus points from their 5 matches shows they’re not far off their first win. Plus, we have experience of them being on song when we come to town, as last season’s 24-24 draw demonstrated.
But this is a different Leinster team, under a different regime, and hopefully heading in a different direction to that which arrived at the Stadio di Monigo last year. The bookies have us 9-point winners - I’m going a bit more conservative thinking the Italians will snag another losing bonus so I’m going for us by 5-7. That plus more evidence that the style of play is being maintained would make me a happy enough camper this weekend. JLP
#COYBIB #WelcomeBackJohnny #IsasArmy
TREVISO : 15 Jayden Hayward 14 Ludovico Nitoglia 13 Andrea Pratichetti 12 Sam Christie 11 Simone Ragusi 10 Luke McLean 9 Edoardo Gori
1 Matteo Zanusso 2 Davide Giazzon 3 Rupert Harden 4 Marco Fuser 5 Teofilo Paulo 6 Francesco Minto 7 Alessandro Zanni ( C ) 8 Abraham Steyn
Bench: 16 Luca Bigi 17 Alberto De Marchi 18 Simone Ferrari 19 Jeff Montauriol 20 Robert Barbieri 21 Chris Smylie 22 James Ambrosini 23 Tommaso Iannone