Saturday, March 31, 2018

Preview : Leinster v Saracens


It has been an odd week, one where I've found it very difficult to know what day it is.  Thursday felt like Friday which made yesterday seem like Saturday, as will tomorrow as well as Leinster rarely play on Sunday.  So what does that make today?  You could probably tell me anything and I wouldn't believe you as one of the days is also April Fool's...

One thing is for sure - this is shaping up to be a monumental clash of European titans at the Aviva Stadium, and the question for Leinster fans is - should we expect the boys in blue to show their form from the pool stages or what they have shown since?

Well, after all my Grand Slam euphoria came crashing down thanks to our wake-up call in Swansea last weekend, the past few days [whatever they might have been actually called], have seen me grow more and more confident mostly down to the difference in standards between the Pro14 and Champions Cup.

Our performance against the Ospreys wasn't our only one that was sub-par this season, but the fact that we went six for six in a European pool where all of our opponents were top of their domestic tables shows that when the stakes get raised, so does our preparation.  Now of course in an ideal world our first seed status could have been rewarded by a quarterfinal against a team that wasn't the two-time reigning champions, but that's how the cookie crumbles.

I have to say this Leinster team announcement was my favourite for this season so far.  After losing Robbie Henshaw to the Six Nations, being able to name both Isa and Garry makes me feel a whole lot better and I strongly believe we need 80 minute shifts from the pair of them in every knockout game we play for the remainder of the campaign.

Then there's Luke McGrath - his making it through last weekend was the one silver lining and Johnny Sexton will benefit from the players around him every bit as much as he did during the Six Nations.

As I tried to predict the matchday 23 I assumed James Lowe would be sacrificed but instead they chose to leave out Jamison Gibson-Park as the surplus foreign player.  That's tough on the Kiwi scrum-half but we all know what Lowe can bring to the table; I think for this occasion he might need to play a bit more conservatively, but only a bit so we get the most from his style of play.

But the real battle royale will be in the forwards...hay carumba what a set of matchups we have in store there!  One thing I did get right about our selection was Fardy shifting to 6 allowing Ryan and Toner to play in the engine room...this not only gives us a host of lineout options but it also means we have gainline-busting carriers aplenty.

The key to our approach could be unpredictability - we'll need to show them something they won't expect, especially in the opening stages.  That said, I wouldn't be all that surprised if Sexton launched a high ball from outside the 22 to test Alex Goode just as he did Anthony Watson and if he does I hope Messrs Kearney and Ringrose are on hand to benefit again.

On the visitor's side of things, did any of you really believe all the '50/50' reports on Owen Farrell from their camp during the week?  It was pretty obvious he was going to start, and no doubt he and Wigglesworth will be keen for revenge after Twickenham, as will the other English test players.  I do think Billy V is a big loss to them however, as he was for Eddie Jones & co.

According to the bookies we'll win by seven - if we play the way we can  and impose ourselves from the start we can definitely make that a reality.  I'm looking for Scott Fardy in particular to shine after a disappointing outing last time out by his lofty standards, and if he and Dan Leavy get the better of the likes of Itoje at the breakdown we could prevail by an even bigger margin.

But as always on this massive occasions I'm not going to let over confidence get the better of me.  Just like the Grand Slam match, a one-point victory would be more than enough for me, though my prediction is ore in the four to six point region.  I'm thinking the ref might be reluctant to show his cards which means advantages will have to be fought for thus keeping it close, with hopefully the home advantage, plus the promise of more in the semifinal, seeing us prevail.

Here's to a happy Easter of egg-chasing at the Aviva.  Hope to see you there!  Best of luck of course to both Connacht and Munster as well this weekend.  JLP

#COYBIB

Saracens : 15. Alex Goode; 14. Liam Williams, 13. Marcelo Bosch, 12. Brad Barritt, 11. Sean Maitland; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Richard Wigglesworth;
1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Juan Figallo, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. George Kruis, 6. Nick Isiekwe, 7. Schalk Burger, 8. Jackson Wray
16. Schalk Brits, 17. Richard Barrington, 18. Titi Lamositele, 19. Dom Day, 20. Blair Cowan, 21. Ben Spencer, 22. Alex Lozowski, 23. Chris Wyles.

Rugby Champions Cup 2017/18 - Quarterfinal
Sunday, April 1, 2018
KO 3:30pm
Aviva Stadium

Referee: Jérôme Garcès (Fra)
AR1: Pascal Gaüzère (Fra)
AR2: Ludovic Cayre (Fra)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (Fra)

BT Sport 2
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