Saturday, March 31, 2018

Keego on...Leinster and Munster in Europe

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As we (or I) finally reach the grand slam comedown the rugby doesn’t stop. Leinster and Munster march into the business end of the European champions cup with a list of injuries, but how will they cope?

Munster welcomes the mighty, cash filled and star laden Toulon to Thomond Park. Munster are struggling with an injury list that is just getting to be mean and Toulon have a cheque book (to millennials a cheque book was a way of paying for things when you don’t have any real money) to constantly bring in top line players.
Now we begin hearing about the Munster wins of the past, the Thomond Park factor and the myth of stand up and fight is in full affect. It is a strange one to take seriously. In reality, Munster hasn’t been a semi-final team in a long time. The times the emotion and spirit has gotten them through a match they shouldn’t win has been few and far between in the last 5 years, but I still find myself wondering if they can do it. In reality it is a no, but let’s looks at what they can do.
Firstly, they have nothing to lose; there is no reason to play within them no reason not to try things. Even at full strength Munster would lose to Toulon 8 times out of 10 at the moment. Munster is in a transition with a new coach and hoping to put the calamitous last year behind them with a fighting performance. Keith Earls (knee), Duncan Williams (facial), Tyler Bleyendaal (neck), Chris Farrell (knee), and Jaco Taute (knee),Scannel and O’Donnell are missing this weekend with Zebo and Conway back in. It is beyond bad luck at this stage for Munster and this will be something they can use to step up against Toulon.
Secondly, Zebo being back along with Conway is beyond massive. Both players can spark magic and frighten opposition.  Zebo wants to leave Munster on a high and will be asking for responsibility and willing to put himself on the line. Conway is consistently a threat.  Both will look to be involved regularly and if they can get into the game they will be able to make a difference.
In reality, the starting 15 has a massive job to do. They have to get in the face of the visitors from the first second and not let up regardless of the scoreboard. The leaders have to lead and the players have to respond. Challenge everything everywhere and put a marker down early. The reason the clichés in rugby are clichés is because they work. The crowd has a massive job to do as well.
Unfortunately it is Toulon by 2 scores after a dogfight.
Leinster welcomes the once fearsome Saracens to the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, April fool’s day. Outside of an injured Henshaw and maybe O’Brien this is THE Leinster team. O’Brien wouldn’t be as nailed down as he once was, but Henshaw is always missed. Nacewa steps into 12 beside twinkle toes Garry ringrose. Not a step will be missed.
Saracens are not the force they once were. They are not the Mike Tyson of rugby anymore. Their English contingent has been dominated by their Irish counterparts for the last 2 years in the 6 Nations. Saracens will show up and fight, maybe a few dirty tricks, but English rugby is not able to compete at the top table. They do not have the class, skill and ability at club level and that is because of the club v country system that is in place. European form is heavily weighted in Leinsters favour, league form is neck and neck with Leinster having lost last weekend.
In general terms, if you were picking 1 team from the 2 sides, how many Saracens players would make the starting 15? Not many. Then look at the bench that both sides have, if you could only pick 1 bench, how many Sarries players would make the match day bench? For me it would be Brits instead of Tracy and that is only based on experience and me being charitable.
Leinster is on the cusp of challenging for the big trophy on a long term basis here. They have done massive work behind the scenes to bring this to where it is and this weekend, we see how it works under pressure. The green jersey experience will be massive for the newer players (Ryan, Porter, and Larmour) but the leaders are already there and ready to lead.
Leinster to win by 2 scores.
Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019