Friday, March 01, 2019

Preview : Leinster v Cheetahs

Under the Conference system used by the league over the past couple of seasons, finishing in first place not only guarantees you a home semifinal but it also gives you a handy weekend off at the beginning of May (which could be extra handy if you've also reached the Champions Cup Final seven days later).

But if you somehow manage to dominate your seven-team section so much that you can clinch top spot on the first day of March, it means you have the luxury of four fixtures with absolutely no consequence, something your coaches will appreciate as they can rest key players for the upcoming knockout rugby, plus I dare say the likes of Joe Schmidt would manage a smile about it too in a World Cup year.

Leinster's remaining matches after tonight are away to Edinburgh, home to Benetton and Glasgow, and finally away to Ulster.  All four are locked in their own playoff struggles so if we needed the points, we'd probably need as strong a matchday 23 as we could cobble together.

Tonight at the RDS we welcome the Toyota Cheetahs, and for the second week in a row it's one of the clubs that joined the league to necessitate that conference format.  Since they're in the opposite section, this is only the second time we have met, and when we visited Bloemfontein back in late 2017 things didn't go so well.

But this time around it's hard not to fancy our chances, and not just because we're the home side.   Of all the matchday 23s we have put out since Christmas in the Pro 14, this is arguably the best all round.  And despite the Six Nations absentees, we've even been able to leave Barry Daly, who got a hat-trick against this opposition last season on the way to being the league's top try-scorer, on the bench.

First and foremost it's great to welcome back Rhys Ruddock to the lineup, for the leadership he brings in general to the side as captain, and also to the back row which has been talented yet relatively inexperienced in recent weeks. 

Then in the second row we have good lineout operators in Ross Molony and Scott Fardy, both of whom have also had recent stints as skipper.

And although the rumours of Jack McGrath going to Ulster are disappointing, both Peter Dooley and Ed Byrne have a perfect opportunity tonight to show Leinster fans the kind of quality we have lined up should he choose to go.

Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne form a decent halfback pairing to run the show while outside them, after a bit of an experiment last week I'm happy to see Conor O'Brien shift back to inside centre alongside Rory O’Loughlin.

After massive margins mooted by the bookies in previous weeks, we're expected to prevail by ‘only’ 25 this time around.  The Cheetahs definitely have talent in their lineup that can hurt us (it's a shame Devin Toner isn't playing as it would've been interesting to see him alongside JP du Preez who is only a smidge shorter); Gibson-Park in particular will need to have his box kick radar working because loose play opportunities will certainly be punished.

I'm hoping for a confident 80-minute display by the boys in blue tonight and once we can keep things solid defensively throughout, the tries should come to at least beat that points spread by a score or two.

Hope to see you down the RDS...according to an app on my phone it's meant to be a rainy evening but the weather has been doing all sorts of crazy things in recent weeks so we'd best be prepared for anything!  JLP


Cheetahs :  15 Louis Fouche 14 William Small-Smith 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg 12 Dries Swanepoel 11 Rabz Maxwane 10 Tian Schoeman 9 Tian Meyer (C)
1 Ox Nche 2 Reinach Venter 3 Aranos Coetzee 4 Walt Steenkamp 5 JP du Preez 6 Gerhard Olivier 7 Abongile Nonkontwana 8 Junior Pokomela
16 Jacques du Toit 17 Charles Marais 18 Luan de Bruin 19 Sintu Manjezi 20 Marnus van der Merwe 21 Henco Venter 22 Rudy Paige 23 Shaun Venter

Guinness Pro14 2018/19 - Round 17
Friday, March 1, 2019
KO: 7:35pm
RDS Arena

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
AR1: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
AR2: Wayne Davies (WRU)
TMO: Colin Stanley (IRFU)
Live on eir sport 1, Premier Sports 1, SuperSport 1, DAZN


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