Given how the 2012 Pro12 Final finished, this might not be a good time to draw reference from it, especially when Leinster’s opposition was the Ospreys and not Glasgow. But looking at the two lineups from that day at the RDS the comparisons are interesting, at least to my nerdy eye.
Let me get the less relevant links over with now. Current Leinster coach Leo Cullen was the captain that day, no surprise there. Devin Toner and Sean Cronin both started, as they do in this fixture, and also Dave Kearney was wearing 23 for the final. But my research on the teamsheets had more to do with Friday evening’s match at the Kingspan between our Conference A rivals Ulster and the Ospreys.
Starting for the home side last night were John Cooney and Ian Madigan, and just as I suspected, both were on the bench for that final (though neither got a game) and just to complete the cycle, the one player to feature both then and now for the Welsh region was another halfback, namely Rhys Webb.
The reason I point this out is that much like Leinster in 2012, Ulster found out last night just how good the Ospreys can be in the second half of a campaign. Maybe they eventually fell short on Friday, but they were very unlucky not to be ahead at the break and played with the kind of attacking rugby that could definitely put them in contention for honours should they repeat it for a whole season.
But as far as Leinster are concerned, two positives came from the encounter in Belfast. First, although we must also face Toby Booth’s pesky birds before the season is out, that’s not until the final round. The second is more obvious; since Ulster failed to secure a fourth try and the bonus point that came with it, we now have a chance to extend our lead to six which would guarantee us staying in 1st whatever happens next weekend.
And one final point to make ahead of looking at our chances...we were reminded during the week that it’s not just a pro14 title left to play for this season, as the EPCR announced how it had decided to play out the remainder of the Champions’ Cup. It was pretty much as I expected, with a round of 16 to be played ahead of the quarterfinals and Leinster’s 2 wins from 2 ensuring us home advantage at least then. So even though there’s a higher-than-normal presence of boys in blue wearing green this weekend in the Six Nations, there are still plenty of places up for grabs in big knockout matches between now and the end of the campaign so there’s a lot to play for on Sunday evening in D4.
Sorry for going a bit overboard setting the scene! Preview only from here on in, I promise...
What we have in this Leinster lineup is our first chance to see the exciting young creative trio of Harry Byrne, Ciarán Frawley and Jimmy O’Brien on the same pitch since the match against Cardiff in November, one of the biggest features of our impressive start to our Pro14 campaign. Their ability to keep the opponents guessing has been a joy to see.
And it’s not unlike the rest of the backline is shabby either, which is amazing given the Irish 9-15 in Rome also hail from the province. Luke McGrath is having an amazing season and is thus unlucky not to be in the Six Nations mix, while both Kelleher and Kearney have been among the tries and Rory O’Loughlin is a great crash ball option.
In the pack, Scott Fardy and Michael Bent join Cronin & Toner as the wise old heads and there’s an interesting switch in the back row as Penny moves to number 8 to accommodate the return of Josh van der Flier. All in all it’s an extremely well rounded starting XV.
When it comes to the bench, well...recent history has taught us we should never question anyone making their debut for the province and on Sunday we add yet another to the ranks of our back row options if Alex Soroka takes to the field.
But altogether our replacements have 40 Leinster appearances with Jack Dune being the “veteran” with 11. I wouldn’t call this a concern, but another good feature of our performances this season has been an ability to defend in the final quarter so after shipping a couple of late tries against the Dragons, we’d be hoping this group of 8 younglings will be able to come on and keep the tackles rolling.
On Glasgow’s side of things, they have been able to benefit from the postponement of the France v Scotland match and will come to the RDS with a host of recognizable names like Nakarawa, Gray, Harley, Wilson and Jones. With just 3 wins from their 11 matches to date they’ll be far from favourites but there’s certainly enough talent there to strike if we don’t meet our standards.
But when it comes to predictions I can’t see anything more than a home win and with that HB/CF/JOB axis restored to the lineup they really should be pushing for the bonus point we’re looking for. Bookies have us winning by 17 but I’m going to put down a challenge to that young bench and say we’ll “only” win by about 8-10 pts in the hope that they prove me wrong and keep the visitors out.