Friday, May 24, 2019

Preview : Glasgow v Leinster

Isn't it funny how all those who complained in the past about Leinster playing knockout matches that were meant to be 'neutral' at the Aviva Stadium have suddenly gone quiet? 🤔 

Well you certainly won't hear too many complaints from me about Saturday's venue...since there has already been a final in Edinburgh, perhaps it's high time one was held in Wales or Italy, but given the progress of the Glasgow Warriors in recent years they have certainly earned the right to stay local for the league's showpiece event.

I can't lie, while my official prediction ahead of last weekend's semifinal was for Leinster to win, I was worried about how we'd be able to respond to both the aftermath of Newcastle and the expected challenge from Munster.  As things turned out we weathered both very well, especially on defence, but you can be sure we will have to find yet another level to retain our Pro 14 title.

This 80 minutes could well be the classic coming together of irresistible force and immovable object.  For the second week in a row we're facing a side that also got bettered by Saracens in Europe but since their quarterfinal disappointment Dave Rennie's Warriors have regrouped extremely well to find their best game and the rest of the league, us included, caught their backlash.

For me, Leinster have two simple choices when it comes to how to approach this match.  First, we can put our heads down, play the game our way, with a view to maintaining a high tempo and moving the ball around the park creating space, with of course the box kick often used to keep their back three on their toes.

In recent weeks, we have seen contrasting examples of results from this theory in full effect.  Against Saracens our confidence cost us dear, especially before half time, yet against Munster, it paid off at exactly the same stage.

But what we face on Saturday evening is a different prospect altogether.  We're up against a determined, confident, talented, and most of all, highly attack-motivated set up.  Give their backs an inch, and they'll take you to the cleaners.

Now I know our own defensive set up is something they'll have to contend with, and with no disrespect meant to those who played at the RDS in April, this will be a more formidable blue wall for Glasgow to tear down (don't worry I'll happily sidestep any temptation to reach for Game of Thrones metaphors).

The thing is though that we really don't want them to be having too much of the ball particularly in the early stages, so in my humble opinion, perhaps a fast tempo might not be the way to go.  I reckon we should be patient and play a shade less like reigning double champions and a shade more like an away team with the patience to take scoring opportunities when they arise (and they will, hopefully with our two 'JL' wingers in close attendance).

Both teams are going for minimal changes to the semifinals, but Leinster's only unforced one is a biggie.  Despite Ross Byrne having done extremely well to build a 10-point lead last week, he moves to the bench allowing club captain Johnny Sexton to start which gives the contest a different complexion altogether.

The common method of 'managing' our World Player of the Year outhalf has been to 'target' him, and looking at the Glasgow lineup, I reckon Rob Harley could well be the one nominated for the task.  It's a ploy that could also work against them, however - as it takes a lot to rattle him.

One Leinster change was forced by Toner's injury at the end of the first half last week, though Scott Fardy isn't too bad a replacement, is he.  We do lose something at the lineout without Big Dev, but the Aussie is himself a decent option and we have others like Ryan, Ruddock and van der Flier so there's no reason why accuracy levels at this key set piece can't get back to where they should be.

But like I said it should all boil down to how we manage to avoid the likes of Hogg, Seymour and van der Merwe finding themselves any kind of space.  Josh van der Flier was credited with 25 tackles and none missed last week on his man-of-match return to the side, and we'll need something similar from him plus the able support of the Healys, Henshaws and Ruddocks.  It promises to be a fascinating battle that befits the occasion.

Of course it's a shame that Sean O'Brien is unable to make an official bow in blue, and as for Rob Kearney, the media quotes and reports on his future tend to go in both directions so we can't really tell if this is to be his final appearance (though his demeanour towards the end could well give the game away).  On the Leinster bench it's good to see Ross Molony returning to senior action and the likes of Porter and Deegan can provide some impact in the latter stages.

Nigel Owens has the whistle again so no doubt same old chestnuts of criticism will be around the ruggersphere throughout the match.  As far as I'm concerned the only problem with the team of officials is the appointment of Mike Adamson and John Lacey as assistants.  I have no doubts as to their ability to be professional but I have harped extensively over the years about the need for 'neutral' refs in a multi-national tournament, and you'd think they could at least manage it for the final?  And it applies here for the touch judges since line speed/offside is bound to play a factor.

I have to say I raised an eyebrow when I saw the bookies had us winning by 4 points - I thought for sure Glasgow's recent form plus home advantage would see them installed as favourites.  That said, I'm backing Leinster to be able to counter the Scottish threat enough to win the day anyway, though I also doubt the margin will be more than a score.

Here's to the boys in blue making it a winning end to another campaign - bon voyage to all travelling!  JLP


Glasgow : 15 S Hogg 14 T Seymour 13 K Steyn 12 S Johnson 11 DTH van der Merwe 10 A Hastings 9 A Price
1 J Bhatti 2 F Brown 3 Z Fagerson 4 S Cummings 5 J Gray 6 R Harley 7 C Gibbins (c) 8 M Fagerson
16 G Stewart 17 O Kebble 18 S Halnukonuka 19 R Wilson 20 T Gordon 21 G Horne 22 P Horne 23 H Jones

Guinness Pro 14 2018/2019 - FINAL
Saturday, May 25, 2019
KO 6:30pm
Celtic Park, Glasgow

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
AR1 : Mike Adamson (Scotland)
AR2 : John Lacey (Ireland)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)

Live on eir sport 1, TG4


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