The reaction to my post yesterday pointing out some of the negatives in the Connacht story was a lot better than I thought it would be...just the one Westerner offered a grumpy reply.
Anyway the method in my madness putting forward that offering was that I wanted to leave it separate to my preview, because while I do believe Connacht have their negatives, Leinster’s task on Saturday is to assume they will be able to overcome them as thus we will have to retain most of if not all the form we showed against Ulster last Friday.
I mean just look at that Connacht backline from 11 to 15. A whole lot of total devastation waiting to happen. It is mostly Leinster’s defensive organisation that got us to this point, and we will need every bit of it at Murrayfield. Basically if we give them 2.54cm, they’ll take 1.61km (what can I say...I grew up with metric).
Unfortunately things haven’t been plain sailing on the selection front for Leinster...our skipper Isa Nacewa is going to have to contemplate doing a “John Terry” should we win but that’s not the only reason we will miss him...he has been a great leader by example on the pitch for us this season and while a fully fit Rob Kearney would be an able replacement, I’d feel better if he had more games under his belt in recent times, particularly against this back three.
Then there’s Devin Toner, another who led from the front last Friday. But again, we’re not so badly set on the replacement front. You’d have to assume that with a fully fit squad our starting locks would be Devin alongside Mike McCarthy, but the pairing we are going with of Mick Kearney and Ross Molony have shown their own strengths this season.
When you look closely at these two lineups, the only thing I can see as a major difference is their relative experience in matches like this, and when it comes to the crunch a key match up will be Connacht’s ability to face the pressure of the big day vs how Leinster draw on their own memories from big finals and test matches over the years.
Another key match-up will take place between those wearing the respective 12 jumpers - Bundee Aki vs Ben Te’o. Expect big collisions, and possibly some “handbags”. It may be Ben’s last game for Leinster but he does have an England tour to look forward to...having said that, I have seen nothing from him over the past two seasons to suggest anything other than he’ll be playing for his blue jersey on the day, and his sustained partnership in the centre with Garry Ringrose has been a key element of our overall success.
Tactics-wise I can’t see Pat Lam’s men doing much different to that which got them to this stage, which means when they come up against the Kurt McQuilkin-inspired defence we will have as close to an irresistible force meeting an immovable object as we can get in rugby. Then when Leinster have the ball, it’s all about how well the back row can provide the quality ball for the halfbacks and I have a feeling this could be where we just about find enough to edge out in front.
I certainly can’t blame the bookies for leaving less than a converted try between these two sides - Leinster were always going to be considered favorites but with a five-point spread it’s anybody’s guess which way this one will actually go. As we all know, be it a bounce of the ball, a questionable TMO call, a brainfart by a particular player, ANYTHING can prove the unpredictable difference in a match like that and of course that makes it all the more compelling.
But having had so little faith in my Leinster last week, I have to do better this week. Personally, I’ll take a one point win hands down, though officially I’m going to side with the turf accountants and say we’re get over the line by four to six points, and I would be surprised if either side cracked the 20 point barrier.
Obviously I’m a more than a bit annoyed I can’t make the trip to Murrayfield, but bon voyage to all who can; it should be quite the Irish invasion of the Scottish capital. Here’s to a cracking contest to do the occasion proud. Come on you boys in blue! JLP
Connacht : 15 Tiernan O’Halloran 14 Niyi Adeolokun 13 Robbie Henshaw 12 Bundee Aki 11 Matt Healy 10 AJ MacGinty 9 Kieran Marmion
1 Ronan Loughney 2 Tom McCartney 3 Finlay Bealham 4 Ultan Dillane 5 Aly Muldowney 6 Eoin McKeon 7 Jake Heenan 8 John Muldoon (captain)
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan 17 JP Cooney 18 Rodney Ah You 19 Andrew Browne 20 Sean O’Brien 21 John Cooney 22 Shane O’Leary 23 Peter Robb
Guinness Pro 12 2015/16 Final
At BT Murrayfield, 5.30pm Live on Sky Sports and TG4
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 136th competition game, 4th Final)
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies, Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
Officials: 4 Lloyd Linton; 5 Bob Nevins; 6 Tom Mc Nicol (all SRU)
Timekeeper: Paul Cyphus (SRU)
Citing Commissioner: Maurizio Vancini (FIR)TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)