Have to say, Leo & co really have picked a jaw-dropping side this week, though I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing.
This is a massive game tonight at the RDS. It has implications on the Pro12 table as it’s 4th v unbeaten 1st, it’s the last outing before Europe kicks off and both sides find themselves in tricky pools, and barring injuries neither team can point to players’ absence for World Cup duty any more.
Yet while we thought Ben Te’o or Luke Fitz would wear 13 we instead see Garry Ringrose. While we thought Ian Madigan would play 12 we instead see him at 10. While we thought Cronin and Strauss were our hookers with Dundon backing up, we instead see James Tracy and Brian Byrne. While we thought it was a straight shoot out between Eoin Reddan and Luke McGrath for the 9 jumper, we instead see Isaac Boss. And while we (or at least I did anyway) thought Josh van der Flier had been one of our leading lights this season and thus was pushing for the senior 23 long term, we instead don’t see him at all.
Based on what we have seen so far this season, this is a mesmerizing amount of shifting around with the various combinations around the park so close to Europe. One positive element of this is that it goes a long way towards neutralizing the 5-day turnaround from our Treviso trip, and it also shows an inherent faith in the systems in place since preseason began - they will be well tested tonight by the visitors.
We all knew Garry Ringrose was destined to play 13 but I never dreamed he’d be starting matches at all by this stage, let alone being given a go in the centre against the league leaders! That said I am a believer in giving youngsters the chance in at the deep end once you feel they are ready, and his defensive work has been pretty solid of late. We’ll see how he gets on tonight...he certainly has the talent to do really well.
I haven’t seen the Scarlets in action this season bar our meeting with them in Llanelli, but I reckon it’s safe to say that the man we have to neutralise more than anyone is James Davies. He’s been a serious Leinster-killer in recent times and no doubt his opposite number Sean O’Brien will be keeping an eye on him. Plus, it’s not as though the Tullow Tank won’t be in the mood for a challenge, right?
But it’s in the forwards in general where Leinster must settle quickly because our pack is entirely new from last week, while the visitors have but one change as Ken Owens is on the bench for Emyr Phillips to start at hooker.
The bookies are very confident for Leinster’s chances tonight, giving us an 11-point spread. No matter how blue-goggled I am I can’t help but feel that’s very hard on the Welsh region. I think we’ll do enough to make home advantage count, but only to the tune of 4-6 points.
Whatever happensit promises to be a cracking evening’s rugby down in Ballsbridge - if you’ve nothing on I do suggest you head on down, and what’s more it’s looking as though the weather is going to behave. Bring it on! JLP
Scarlets : 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Gareth Owen, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Michael Tagicakibau, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies
1 Rob Evans, 2 Emyr Phillips, 3 Peter Edwards, 4 Jake Ball, 5 Lewis Rawlins, 6 Aaron Shingler, 7 James Davies, 8 John Barclay [c]
Replacements: Ken Owens, Dylan Evans, Will Taylor, Tom Price, Maselino Paulino, Aled Davies, Michael Collins, Harry Robinson