Friday, September 27, 2019

The Road Ahead for Leinster by Ciarán Duffy

Eyes on the World 

28th Benetton (A) 
4th Ospreys (H) 
11th Edinburgh (H) 
26th Zebre (A) 
1st Dragons (H) 

Leinster’s journey begins while most of the rugby worlds attention will be on the World Cup.  This will be a big period for Ross Byrne as he takes the role of senior Fly-Half. I wrote previously that from a cynical Leinster point of view it is better for the province if he isn’t in the World Cup squad, which is particularly true with Luke McGrath on international duty.  Devin Toner will also play a key leadership role in the squad after his surprise omission from the World Cup squad.  

We of course don’t know how long Ireland will be in Japan.  The pool stages wraps up 3 games into the season, there’s no game on the week of the quarter final.  You’d expect the players in the Irish squad to be unavailable until at least the Dragons game on the 1st of November.  

The first game against Benetton offers the biggest challenge.  Benneton had their best ever season last time around and they’ll target this game.  Leinster tend to lose a game early in the season. Benetton will look to hit the ground running against a Leinster side that is without some key names.  That being said, so are Benetton. It’s one of those games that could go either way, the other 4 are winnable.  

European Dawn

8th Connacht (A) 
16th Benetton (H) 
23rd Lyon (A) 
30th Glasgow (A) 
7th Northampton Saints (A) 
14th Northampton Saints (H*) 
Aviva Stadium

This is where the season gets going.  If Ireland were to make the World Cup Final or Bronze Final, it’s possible Leinster’s big names might be out until the European games.  That Lyon away game could suddenly become tricky. I wouldn’t call Ireland favourites in a quarterfinal against New Zealand or South Africa, so that is pure speculation.  

That being said Leinster do not have the most difficult of European groups.  Really they’d need to be looking at being one of the top 2 seeds for home advantage in the knockout rounds.  Benetton will likely have had their internationals back for a while when the game comes around, so the opening games will be difficult.  Either side of the first two rounds in the pool are games against Connacht and Glasgow away. That’s a tricky interpro and the toughest game in our conference.  Oddly enough the games against Northampton Saints appear to be the most straight forward as the big guns may be back in the swing of things by then.  

This will be a trying month, morale could be low if the World Cup doesn’t go to plan, and it’s a potentially difficult start to the European campaign. 

InterPros and the end of the Pool

20th Ulster (H) 
28th Munster (A) 
4th Connacht (H) 
12th Lyon (H) 
18th Benetton (A) 

I’m a big fan of the New Years interpros.  Munster Away will be the most difficult game here, as Leinster are so strong at home.  Depending on how the first four games went Leinster could be left with a lot to do, or simply there to maximise their seeding.  This is usually a good period for provincial rugby, fans are excited for the interpros, and looking forward to the final pool games.  

Six Nations

15th Cheetahs (H) 
21st Ospreys (A) 
28th Glasgow (H) 
21st Cheetahs (A) 
27th Southern Kings (A) 

Once again eyes will shift away from the league and onto the international stage.  The Leinster young guns will be into it at this stage, and the 2nd string will have had game time so their shouldn’t be as many issues as their were during the World Cup.  However a trip to South Africa comes at a difficult time.  

Business End

3rd/4th/5th HCC Quarter Finals 
11th Zebre (A) 
18th Munster (H*) 
24th Dragons (A) 
1st/2nd/3rd HCC Semi-Finals 
*Aviva Stadium

Assuming Leinster make the quarter finals, they’ll be playing having bee away with international duty and on a trip to South Africa.  This means the stars are either going to have not played with Leinster in a bit, or will have racked up a lot of miles. Finishing as one of the top seeded group winners is key to get an easier draw so it won’t be as big of an issue.  However, as we know, European knockout rugby is rarely easy. There’s a huge game against Munster to play in with two easier games in the month too. A big semi-final is there for the taking as well.  

The Finale 

9th Scarlets (A) 
15th Cardiff (H) 
23rd HCC Final 
29th Ulster (A) 
5th/6th/7th Pro14 Quarter Finals/Champions Cup Play-off **
12th/13th/14th Pro14 Semi-Finals **
20th Pro14 Final 
** Unconfirmed but likely dates 

This is where we really don’t know what will happen.  Should Leinster make it to a 3rd Champions Cup final in 3 years and have once again ran away with their conference, all eyes will be on Marseille.  However, with Glasgow in our conference it will likely mean we’ll need to pick up a few points late in the season. Two tough games are included here against Scarlets and Ulster.  The hope would be Leinster would have a rest week for the Quarter Finals after a long season. The final has been confirmed for June 20th

Plenty of potential speed bumps for Leinster in a very busy year for rugby.  Leinster have the best squad depth in the league and that will very much be put to the test. 

Ciarán is the Producer and Presenter of Post to Post Sport (@PostToPostSport), a sports podcast that covers rugby, football, wrestling, and Irish Sport News. You can get their podcasts on MixCloud our Spotify (Search PostToPostSport) and PlayerFM (Post to Post Sport).

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