Friday, March 09, 2018

Preview : Scarlets v Leinster

BREAK'S OVER!!!  Not sure if you noticed but my last bout of actual harping on these pages was all the way back on Feb 26 when I wrote up Ireland v Wales.

I toyed with the idea of an article or two during the snow break but instead I took it as a sign to lay low and recharge the batteries for what promises to be a hectic sequence from now until the end of June - Six Nations, Champions Cup, Pro 14, British and Irish Cup, Schools Cup, Test series in Australia, Ulster Bank League, Junior World Championship...plenty to keep me occupied.

As always I'd like to express my gratitude to guest contributors Ciarán Duffy. Keego, Big Joe Shep and Mark Jackson for providing their usual quality content to keep the site ticking over in the meantime.

Now that we've seen the last of the Beast from the East, it's time for Leinster to tackle the self-described Best from the West, and to be fair, in recent times the Scarlets have proven that to be right, so much so that I'm thinking of taking my 'Those Pesky...' label from the Ospreys and transferring it to Llanelli.

I know the fact that both Leinster and Ireland playing on the same weekend can't be helped this time around, but it still bugs me because of the way it divides the loyalties.  Take the awesome return of Sean O'Brien, for example.  Of course I want him fit and ready to line out at Twickenham next week, but I'd also like to have him on the pitch for the full eighty minutes tonight unless the result is beyond doubt in the closing stages...the stakes are too high for this match tonight.

Victory would give us a lot of leeway in Conference B in the remaining rounds with Europe still in play, and while we're welcoming back Seanie as well as Jack Conan down from the Six Nations squad, our hosts tonight have been affected in the other doubt the irony of James Davies' call up isn't lost on the region's fans who would have been screaming for it after a string of fine performances, many against us.

That's not to say the home side won't still be targeting the breakdown area and in the likes of Tadhg Beirne they have plenty of danger men, although it's not like we're short of back row depth ourselves to say the very least.  With Nigel Owens, who likes to keep the play going, holding the whistle this could well be a fascinating battle.

One interesting feature of this Leinster lineup is that it has Byrnes to burn and all should be heavily involved.  Ross is back pulling the strings at outhalf, twins Ed and Bryan have impressed in recent weeks and on the bench, Adam could well find himself facing new Scarlets signing Tom Varndell in the final quarter if both come off the bench.

Apart from the former Wasps winger I have to admit that I know precious little about the Scarlets replacements, but I still think we're going to want some kind of a lead going into the closing stages to have a hope of living up to the bookies' expectations of an 8-point win.

To do this we'll probably need Barry Daly [who spent time at Carton House during the week] and James Lowe to continue their respective try-scoring streaks while in the centre, a lot rests on the shoulders of Messrs Reid [would feel better with Isa TBH but he's so important v Sarries I can see why he'd be rested here] and O'Loughlin to shut down the champions who, despite losing so many players to the Six Nations, still play with a culture of rugby under Wayne Pivac that uses the ball quickly and effectively given half a chance.

Nick McCarthy has a big task ahead of him tonight - the Leinster backline will need a regular supply of quick ball and even though this may not be a sell out, the Parc y Scarlets atmosphere should be electric so it's a good chance for him to show he'll be ready should his services be required in Europe.

I'm relatively confident we can finish on top tonight, but not so much that I match the bookies' optimism.  For me this seems to be shaping up to be one of those grumpy Friday night matches where fans of both sides have contentious decisions to moan about and all going well we should finish on top, if only by 3 to 5 points.  If you see tweets from me while the match is on they could well be coming from behind my sofa!!! JLP

PS - Be sure to join in our post-match discussion after full time over on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page, all opinions welcome.


Scarlets : 15 Tom Williams, 14 Ioan Nicholas, 13 Paul Asquith, 12 Steff Hughes - capt, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Jonathan Evans
1 Phil Price, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Werner Kruger, 4 Steve Cummins, 5 David Bulbring, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 7 Josh Macleod, 8 Will Boyde
Replacements; Emyr Phillips, Rhys Fawcett, Simon Gardiner, Josh Helps, Lewis Rawlins, Declan Smith, Ioan Hughes, Tom Varndell.

Guinness Pro14 2017/18 - Round 17
Friday, March 9, 2018
KO 7:35pm 
Parc y Scarlets

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).
AR1: Ben Whitehouse (WRU). 
AR2: Simon Rees (WRU).
TMO: Neil Hennessey (WRU).
Sky Sports Action: 19:30


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