Thanks for reading my preview, folks - enjoy the match! JLP
Wait - what? You think I should harp on some more? Yeah, I probably should flesh that out a little shouldn't I...though I kind of already did earlier in the week.
On Tuesday I did a post titled “It’s all about the provinces for now” where I said that Irish rugby has to put everything aside, even the forthcoming South African tour, and make every resource available to the provinces, all of whom still have a whole lot to play for.
Both Connacht and Munster play tonight and I wish them both all the best, but on account of tomorrow’s proceedings at the Kingspan, we can’t have four Irish wins this weekend so something will have to give.
Frequent Harpin reader/commenter and avid Ulster fan Ian Frizzell pointed out that I neglected to mention the possibility of the northern province winning this season’s Pro12 title. And that is definitely a fair cop. In the article I ran a few possible scenarios that were based on Leinster and Connacht reaching the final in Murrayfield and it was remiss of me to suggest the Ulstermen couldn’t make it, because they most certainly can.
And there is no doubt that this squad they have put out for Saturday is one that is very strong, particularly in the backline. Basically if there are any holes to be found in the Leinster defence, from Pienaar to Payne this is a group of players who can make the most of it. But will there be holes in the Leinster defence?
Well, based on the way this season has gone so far, probably not many. On several occasions we have conceded just the one try which can be put down to just the one mistake. If we can replicate this kind of form it’s going to be very difficult for Ulster to put five-pointers on the board.
Then we come to the forwards, and this is definitely an area where Leinster can dominate both in set pieces and the loose. The return of Iain Henderson to the lineup has certainly been a massive boost for the Ulstermen, but that said there is plenty in the Leinster pack to at least contain him enough to keep damage to a minimum.
I’m a little disappointed that Ross Molony isn’t involved, but that’s not to take away from Hayden Triggs and especially Mick Kearney in support of Devin Toner at lock - I just thought Ross is as good overall, could possibly be better at pinching lineouts, and most of all adds to the whole #CullensCubs revolution that has gone on at the province this season. Still, the youth element is well served in this lineup with Josh van der Flier starting in the pack plus Luke McGrath (who needs to assert himself among the other more established halfbacks) and Garry Ringrose holding key positions in the backline.
For me, the “Ben & Garry” centre pairing is our best bet to see out the season, though they will have their work cut out against McCloskey & Marshall. The debate about whether the dozen in Te’o’s shirt number should be “traditional” or “baker’s” will go on ad infinitum but I’d rather see him used for “Jamie Roberts style” crash ball/decoy options.
And so we have come to the crux of Leinster’s hopes this season. If our defence can hold its shape and organisation there’s every hope we can limit Ulster to a score in the mid-teens. The question is, can we generate enough opportunities ourselves to better their total? Over to you, Messrs Dempsey and Sexton, because with Les Kiss at the helm they’re bound to be decent on the defensive front themselves, as indeed they have been all season.
I said earlier that Ulster’s backline is well capable of punishing mistakes and on paper so is Leinster’s. But something has definitely been lacking from our play with the ball especially since the Six Nations and if we don’t fix it soon our season could be quickly derailed.
Far be it from me to make too many technical suggestions but I guess what I’m looking for is more in the line of risk-taking, a bit closer to the approach Connacht have shown this season. Go that extra mile taking it into areas where your opponent is forced to respond...if they do, so be it but if they don’t, be sure and exploit it.
Clearly the bookies don’t think we can do it as they have the home side by 4 points, even though they also have Leinster as favourites to be champions. Personally I’m going to put faith in us finding enough mojo to get ahead and stay there though only by 2 to 4 points at the end of what should be a thrilling (and no doubt controversial) 80 minutes of interprovincial rugby.
There’s been a lot of talk about coaching in Irish rugby in recent times. Here’s hoping that superior preparation is what ultimately decides this fixture and not the referee’s interpretations. But with the “cup final” nature and the two strong defences that could well be the case. No pressure, Mr Clancy! JLP (really finished this time!)
Ulster : 15 J Payne 14 A Trimble 13 L Marshall 12 S McCloskey 11 C Gilroy 10 P Jackson 9 R Pienaar
1 C Black 2 R Best 3 R Lutton 4 P Browne 5 F van der Merwe 6 I Henderson 7 C Henry 8 S Reidy
16 R Herring 17 K McCall 18 A Warwick 19 R Diack 20 R Wilson 21 P Marshall 22 S Olding 23 D Cave
Guinness Pro 12 2015/16 Round 21