Friday, May 11, 2018

Preview : Leinster v Racing 92


Instagram photo posted featuring majority of my Leinster gear one week ahead of the match?  Check.

Clothes laid out for Saturday days ahead of time, including everything blue right down to jocks and socks?  Check. 

Refusal to use (neither out loud nor online) a particular two-word phrase, one being a number that's less than 5 and greater than 3, the other being a certain type of celestial body?  Check.

These are but a sample of my superstitions ahead of big Leinster & Ireland matches, and I don't feel too self conscious about sharing them since I know many fans do similar things.  Never mind things like form, training, fitness or coaching...the difference between winning and losing invariably comes down to the supporters' choice of underwear 😜

Of course superstition is a double-sided coin...some things could be seen to lead to the result you don't want.  Like the age-old 'the more confident I am of victory, the less likely it will be'.  Or for something more related to this match, how about the fact that our final opponents wear colours similar to Argentina in the RWC2015 quarterfinal?

Right - what say I change tack and harp on more realistic things?  Starting with Racing.

Actually against Munster in the semifinal they came out of the blocks much like the Pumas did against Ireland that infamous day, and even without Machenaud they have plenty about their 23 that can do damage...we have been hurt by Teddy Thomas already this season, there are others from that strong defensive French outing involved on Saturday like Chavancy, Vakatawa and Lauret, and oh yeah, there's also the small matter of Dan Carter waiting in the wings - he's been known to be responsible for a major victory or six.

But for me what stands out from their lineup is their locks.  In Donnacha Ryan and Leone Nakarawa they seem to have every conceivable base covered for a second row...determination, power, offloading, you name it...and surely one of their primary targets on the day will be to disrupt our lineout ball.  Make no mistake...whatever about who the favourites may be on the day, there are plenty of ways Racing can win this one.

Now to look at why Leinster are the favourites.  It probably has something to do with not only winning eight out of eight matches so far, but also doing it against the reigning Champions Cup holders, the reigning Pro14 champions, and the leaders of the other three European domestic league tables, and mostly in comfortable enough fashion to boot.

And it's not as though you can achieve that record by hitting a rich vein of form at one portion of the season either.  We had to do it October, December, January and April with punishing test windows in between...that's some achievement, and a clear indication that Leo Cullen, Stuart Lancaster & co have come into this campaign with a view to putting our best foot forward on the European stage...few can argue it has been a success.

I have already said how I'm wary of feeling too good about how things are going to go for us in Bilbao, but one thing I can say for sure is that when the match kicks off, the fifteen boys in blue will be primed and ready to go.  Both preparation and execution have been exemplary to date, with Johnny Sexton the perfect conduit between the two.

And having highlighted the Racing locks as their key pairing, for me Leinster's is in the centre.  I was in the Aviva Stadium when Robbie Henshaw did his shoulder against Italy and to have him back and playing so well against the Scarlets was nothing short of a miracle.

Of course he and Ringrose pose a wide variety of attacking threats and we'll definitely need them, but it's in their defensive tracking where they'll be most valuable.  The likes of Thomas and Vakatawa need space to do their thing but that's hard to come by when the opposition 12 and 13 keep hunting down the point of attack before the ball can get out to them as if they knew your playbook off by heart.

Then there's our setpieces, when have been amazing so far this season, and although Racing are likely to target our lineout, we have an abundance of options in Toner, Ryan, Fardy and on the bench Ruddock and Conan so the French outfit will have their work cut out once we mix things up.

Fortune has been tough on certain Leinster players...like Fergus McFadden and Sean O'Brien with injury and James Lowe with the competition's terms and conditions.  Still, that was the right call if Luke McGrath isn't quite 100% and there's no doubting JGP won over a lot of Leinster heats and minds with his semifinalt display and should have a key role to play.

What about the officials?  Many wince when they see the name Wayne Barnes but I'm not one of them.  Even if he is a bit picky, it's up to the players to bend to his will not the other way around, and it's not like he doesn't make it perfectly clear how he wants things done.  That's not to say it will be a controversy-free evening but discipline is one area Irish teams tend to do well in so let's just say I'm....hopeful?

I'd love to be going to Bilbao, but sadly it is a journey too far.  This site was conceived around the same time as my nine-year old was, and there is now a three-year-old in the picture as well so trips to far flung places for rugby matches have been rare.  But to go back to my opening theme on superstitions, I will be watching this match at the fine establishment that is Gleesons in Booterstown, where I not only saw Leinster's first European triumph but also Munster's, so make of that what you will.

OK that's enough stalling, time for me to make a prediction.  While I can see why the bookies have us winning by eleven, anyone who has read my previews before will know I can't stop myself being more conservative.  One thing I do believe however is that if we don't win it will be down to something lacking on our side of the equation, and given that, I can hardly forecast anything but a Leinster victory, just by a more modest margin of 5 to 7 points.

Not forgetting the other Leinster team in action...there's quite a mix of youth and experience in that lineup and I think they could be too much for the English Championship outfit even on their own pitch.  I know precious little about the Trailfinders but I doubt they have faced many controlled defensive displays like that we put in against Munster A in the quarterfinals.  And fair play to Bank of Ireland for giving us the chance to watch that game live via Facebook, what a perfect curtain raiser!

Here's to a maginifcent Leinster double.  Whether you're travelling to Bilbao, watching down the local rugby pub or club, or at home with friends and family, don't be a stranger on the social media throughout the day...leave everyone involved with the province in no doubt that they have you all behind them.

See you on the other side folks!  JLP

#COYBIB

RACING 92 : 15. Louis Dupichot; 14. Teddy Thomas, 13. Virimi Vakatawa, 12. Henry Chavancy, 11. Marc Andreu; 10. Pat Lambie, 9. Teddy Iribaren;
1. Eddy Ben Arous, 2. Camille Chat, 3. Cedate Gomes Sa, 4. Donnacha Ryan, 5. Leone Nakarawa, 6. Wenceslas Lauret, 7. Bernard Le Roux, 8. Yannick Nyanga
16. Ole Avei, 17. Vasil Kakovin, 18. Census Johnston, 19. Boris Palu, 20. Baptiste Chouzenoux, 21. Antoine Gibert, 22. Dan Carter, 23. Joe Rokocoko

Rugby Champions Cup Final 2017/18
Saturday, May 12, 2018
KO 4:45pm 
San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
AR1 : JP Doyle (RFU)
AR2 : Tom Foley (RFU)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (RFU)
TV : Sky Sports / BT Sport

Leinster ‘A’ v Ealing Trailfinders : 15. Jack Kelly 14. Adam Byrne 13. Gavin Mullin 12. Conor O'Brien 11. Tommy O'Brien 10. Ciarán Frawley 9. Charlie Rock
1. Ed Byrne 2. Bryan Byrne > CAPTAIN 3. Vakh Abdaladze 4. Mick Kearney 5. Ian Nagle 6. Josh Murphy 7. Peadar Timmins 8. Max Deegan
16. Sean McNulty 17. Peter Dooley 18. Jack Aungier 19. Caelan Doris 20. Will Connors 21. Hugh O'Sullivan 22. Tom Daly

British & Irish Cup 2017/18 Final
Saturday, May 12, 2018
Trailfinders Sports Club
Kickoff 2pm

Referee: Craig Evans (Wal)
AR1: Mike English (Wal)
AR2: Dewi Phillips (Wal)
Streamed live on Leinster Rugby Facebook page
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