Friday, May 06, 2022

Preview : Leicester Tigers v Leinster

"We were outthought, outplayed and overpowered on each of those occasions and we will have been preparing for this match on Saturday since the first day of preseason"

I was a guest on the Leicester Tigers podcast The Rolling Maul during the week and I wanted to give them a sense of how focused Leinster have been on European matchdays this season, so that quote above made reference to the times we fell short in 2019, 2020 and 2021 providing the motivation for our latest shot at star number five.

And with all due respect to Montpellier, Bath & Connacht, this represents our first big test which will show whether or not this squad is ready to go all the way.  I mean, whatever about our annoyance at how we got seeded as low as we did, having to travel to the Premiership leaders is about as good a test of title winning credentials as you can get.

What has struck me most about Leinster's European campaign this season is that no matter what the opposition, we seemed determined to play our strongest available 23, which in turn means our coaching staff must know our strongest available 23, and bar a name here or there, this is pretty much the squad we could have predicted before it was announced so let's go through the team shall we.

BACKS

From 9 to 15 this definitely was the predicted selection. As many love to point out, it is the Irish backline bar Jimmy O'Brien, who may have made the shortlist for Euro POTY be virtue of a four-try haul against Bath, but also fits like a glove in the Leinster set up.

And another point I made on that Rolling Maul podcast is just how critical Jamison Gibson-Park will be to our chances. Of course all eyes will be on skipper Sexton, but if we are to get off to a good start we will need our 9 to set the tempo as he has done all season. Sometimes he looks as though his body is moving to the next breakdown before his hands are done passing from the current one! If he can dictate the pace it will allow J10 to run his variations and keep the home defence, which will be clearly out to thwart us and slow us down at every opportunity, guessing every time.

Out on the other wing, there's a matchup to relish. I mean, just the names James Lowe and Chris Ashton should be enough yet when you add the context of this article from 2020, it adds just that little extra spice. Not that I'm suggesting Mr Lowe is the type of player who would consider that type of rebuke to be some kind of motivation, of course...

FORWARDS

Every week I say it, every week I don't care that I've already said it. Set pieces need to be spot on. And after what happened at those Twickenham scrums you can bet a certain Mr Genge is going to fancy his chances but I wouldn't be so sure he'll be guaranteed an upper hand here, even if it is the same referee in Mathieu Reynal. We will see how those all-important early decisions go.

Around the park we definitely have enough to at least match our opponents, and it is of course great to see James Ryan back starting where he will be needed from the word go. As for our back row, it's usually where we're looking to for PotM although to be fair the Tigers have been doing pretty well in that department this season too so we'll see how they get on head to head at the breakdown.

BENCH

If you told me at the start of the season Joe McCarthy would be on the bench for us in a European quarterfinal I might have raised an eyebrow yet it was no surprise to see his name in the squad when it was announced on Friday. A string of fine performances, particularly impressive with ball handling, have earned his spot, leaving quality alternatives in his wake.

There's a similar tale for Tommy O'Brien who claims jersey number 23 ahead of Ciaran Frawley and Jordan Larmour - a decision any coach on the continent would love to have to wrestle with.

But as always, what we might be looking for most of all from our bench is defensive cohesion. I can definitely see this being close right up to the end so our tackles in the closing stages are just as vital as those at the start, and so far this season we have excelled at this. Let's just say the Tigers won't be expecting us to roll over and let them tickle our tummies the way Bristol did last weekend!!!

OPPOSITION

To return the favour of my appearance on their pod, Elliott Butlin from Rolling Maul appeared on "THORP" (as nobody but me calls The Harpin On Rugby Podcast) and he pointed out that while Leicester will be more than aware of our capabilities and past successes, Steve Borthwick is a smart coach with quality players like George Ford and Freddie Steward at his disposal who will be both ready from kickoff and able to adapt if things go wrong early on.

I'm pretty sure this will be the first appearance on the Welford Road turf for pretty much all of our squad, and you can be sure the Tigers will be doing all they can to make the most of that. They will also have watched those contests against Sarries and La Rochelle in search of ways to get past us though it has to be said that if they beat us that way, we will only have ourselves to blame.

A lot will come down to the conditions - if they are like they are right now here in Dublin as I type, ie very wet, then it could give the home side the edge as Ford's high bombs landing just outside the 22 will be a challenge even for a reliable 15 like Hugo Keenan...that said, Sexton can put up some accurate bombs himself.

PREDICTION

A lot has been said during the week about the history of these quarterfinals, in that there's a 75% success rate for the home side. And we have become used to being one of those four home sides over the years so it's up to us to buck that trend, or at least be the one successful away side.

The bookies have us prevailing by 7 points, and I certainly wouldn't be expecting any more than that. But while there is most definitely more than one path to victory for this Leicester side, I have to stay confident with the boys in blue and I reckon we'll prevail by 4-6pts.

WHERE TO WATCH I know this is a really, really picky observation but I'll make it anyway. The numbers for BT Sport's 3 channels probably don't mean anything, but still I can't help feeling that whatever they're showing on BT Sport 1 is their feature event at that given time. So when the two massive Champions Cup quarterfinals (which are also frustratingly being played at the same time btw) are being screened on 2 and 3 respectively, it surely must mean there's something even more important on 1, right? Well I don't know about you but I'm absolutely gutted that I'm being forced to miss the 11th v 12th battle from the Italian Serie A between Sassuolo and Udinese. Promises to be a real barn-burner that one...

Obviously I'd love to be travelling myself but I'd actually rather be in Dublin on Sunday morning for the birthday of what will then be my 7-year-old, so instead I will be mostly watching with some fellow Leinster fans with some beer and possibly BBQ. For once, there will be no note-taking, no constantly monitoring twitter, no screens other than the one where the boys in blue are playing.

And to make it a full double header experience we plan to kick off our refreshments at 3pm when Munster play Toulouse. This one I plan to view in one of the biggest Leinster pubs outside D4, and it also happens to be where I watched the 2006 final where I can assure you everyone in the place was shouting for our southern cousins.

Promises to be a cracking day's action, whether you are at Welford Road, watching at home or down the local, hopefully it will be a day to remember.

GET INVOLVED IN THE DISCUSSION

Like I said earlier I may not be tweeting as much as I normally do but I will be going back through the timeline to see what you all had to say and I'll be sharing the best contributions here on the site. If your thoughts at fulltime require more than 256 characters why not head to our Facebook page and leave them there.

Here's to a cracking weekend of European rugby and an all-Irish semifinal to look forward to at the Aviva seven days later!!! JLP

Leicester Tigers : 15 Freddie Steward 14 Chris Ashton 13 Matías Moroni 12 Guy Porter 11 Harry Potter 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs
1 Ellis Genge > (c) 2 Julián Montoya 3 Dan Cole 4 Ollie Chessum 5 Calum Green 6 Hanro Liebenberg > (vc) 7 Tommy Reffell 8 Jasper Wiese
REPLACEMENTS : 16 Nic Dolly 17 James Whitcombe 18 Joe Heyes 19 Harry Wells 20 George Martin 21 Richard Wigglesworth 22 Freddie Burns 23 Nemani Nadolo.

Heineken Champions Cup 2021/22 - Quarterfinal
Saturday, May 7, 2022
Kickoff 5:30pm 
Mattioli Woods Welford Road

Ref: Mathieu Reynal (FRA)
AR1: Tual Trainini (FRA)
AR2: Thomas Charabas (FRA)
TMO: Phillipe Bonhoure (FRA)

BT Sports / bein Sports


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