Friday, March 04, 2022

Preview : Benetton v Leinster

This is round 13 of the inaugural United Rugby Championship. Even as I'm typing that it's still sinking in. 13 already??? There was a time when we'd be just over halfway through the regular season, but nowadays it means we're heading towards the final stretch.

And for Leinster, although we go into it on top of the pile by four points, that stretch that includes four interpros, three of which are away from home, plus the small matter of a trip to South Africa where the RWC-winning Boks are back and tearing it up.

So I guess all of that means that while no visit to the Stadio Monigo can be considered a "given" these days, we still need to target maximum points if we are to build enough of a cushion to bring into those remaining rounds.

It has been another week of mixed news at Leinster, with the announcement of players signing new contracts always welcome yet countered by Andrew Porter's injury ruling him out of the Six Nations plus the imminent departure of players like Adam Byrne.

Yet we must plough on with the squad we have right now so let's have a look at the matchday squad that's heading to Italy.


It's always a good thing when we can name the same centre pairing three weeks in a row. Sure, the original plan was probably to have Frawley in the 12 jersey but Harry Byrne hasn't been doing too badly and while we may have been denied a 4th try by the Lions last week, things are still going very well on the defensive front with just one late try conceded in each of the last three outings.

Tommy O'Brien gets another start on the wing after his heroic try-saving tackle helped him get the Player of the Match gong last week, and he's part of a very exciting looking back three along with Jordan Larmour and Jimmy O'Brien.

One position we will definitely need more output is 9 and Luke McGrath will have to find a way to fulfil his skipper's role while still providing Ross Byrne with the pleniful supply of front foot ball we'll need if we're to go for those 5 match points.


Amid all the talk about players leaving Leinster, one position that has been of concern is that of lock. With Jack Dunne and Josh Murphy heading away from the RDS, Big Dev not getting any younger and James<Ryan>Baird heavily involved in test plans, we'll need a settled pairing to back them up and in this match we might get a glimpse of that future with Ross Molony's form catching Andy Farrell's eye and Joe McCarthy impressing in his first couple of outings.

Sean Cronin gave us a glimpse last week of how he hasn't lost any of his running skills and he starts here in a front row that includes 100-cap Peter Dooley as well as Tom Clarkson. Our scrum obviously needs a strong outing this week after being overpowered by the Lions.

It has been often said on these pages that Leinster's 6/7/8 combo is going to look quality whatever way it lines out and this is no exception with Rhys Ruddock joined by a pair of try-scoring machines from this league in Scott Penny and Max Deegan.


I've said it many times before in this section this season and I'll say it many times again before it's done - Leinster's most impressive feature this season has been an 80-minute defensive display no matter who comes off the bench. Even last week the only try we shipped was from a scrum on our own put in - once we're set we've been really difficult to break down.

We've a couple of good attacking options from the bench in Locky and Dave Kearney and there isn't a team on the planet that wouldn't benefit from a Dan Leavy cameo here's hoping he can string a decent run of games together between now and the end of the season.


I recently had the author of The Italian Rugby Blog on the podcast and he told me a bit about Benetton's squad while the internationals are away - they clearly tend to struggle more than most and it was really evident last weekend against a Sharks outfit packed with Boks like Am, Kolisi and Mapimpi.

They were never really in the contest but their outhalf Albornoz did have some success getting the most out of his back three and he's joined here by Paolo Garbisi's younger brother Alessandro who is back from the U20s. Also over from the Six nations only this time the seniors is Toa Halafihi who will help beef up their back row.

Overall though if we can settle into our game early, particularly set pieces, we would hope to emulate the Sharks' dominance, and hopefully Ben Whitehouse's style of whistle-wielding won't play a factor.


I'm always wary when the bookies predict a big win when we're playing away, and 23 is pretty big. But on the evidence I've seen this season from our defending, we should keep their score relatively low so that would mean it's down to our forwards being able to create a platform for the backs to decide how close we can get to the much needed four tries. I'm in good form this week so I'm backing us to do it, with a margin of 15-17 points.


Lunchtime kickoff on Saturday, as always follow the conversation on twitter throughout the match and when the full time whistle blows, head on over to the Facebook page and leave your thoughts. JLP

Benetton : 15 Andries Coetzee 14 Lorenzo Pani 13 Joaquin Riera 12 Filippo Drago 11 Rhyno Smith 10 Tomas Albornoz 9 Alessandro Garbisi
1 Federico Zani 2 Corniel Els 3 Nahuel Tetaz 4 Nicola Piantella 5 Carl Wegner (c) 6 Matteo Meggiato 7 Lorenzo Cannone 8 Toa Halafihi
Replacement: 16 Tomas Baravalle 17 Matteo Drudi 18 Cherif Traore 19 Abraham Steyn Alessandro Izekor 21 Luca Petrozzi 22 Marco Zanon 23 Luca Sperandio.

United Rugby Championship 2021/22 - Round 13
Saturday, March 5, 2022
KO 12:55pm (Irish time)
Stadio Monigo

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
AR 1: Manuel Bottino (FIR) 
AR 2: Alex Frasson (FIR)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (FIR)

Live on: Mediaset, RTÉ 2, Premier Sports, SuperSport & URC TV.


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