The boys are back in town! And by that I mean the big guns, the Lions, the internationals, the leaders, whatever you want to call them. They’re back! Well, most of them anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, the young lads that have played the last four games in this season’s Pro14 have performed admirably and most of credit goes to them for the 3 bonus point wins we picked up over the first 3 rounds of the competition. They will surely be utilised heavily this season, especially during the Autumn Internationals and Six Nations, but it’s always great to see the tried and tested, the big game players, the old guard, the BEST players in the country, whatever you want to call them, return to the fold. Welcome back, we’ll certainly need them given our series of games coming up ie; Munster, Montpellier, Glasgow away (in Champions Cup), Ulster away, and Glasgow away again in the Pro14. It’s going to be a very tough month or two for the boys in blue and each and every one of our experienced players will be needed where possible to get us over the line. But first of all, this write up is going to focus on our next challenge against Edinburgh tomorrow at the RDS, KO 7:35pm.
Edinburgh has won two games and lost two so far this season. Their two wins came against Cardiff and Dragons, and the losses were against Treviso and Scarlets. Richard Cockrell, the former Leicester Tigers head coach until end of last season, takes the helm at Edinburgh and brings a huge amount of experience with him. You can already see some positive changes within the team. The changes are most noticeable in attack where you can see Edinburgh players perform with more ambition and intent in opposition 22s and they’ve scored some very slick tries over the last month. The appointment of high caliber coaches like Cockrell to Pro14 teams is certainly helping with making the league a lot more competitive. I remember around this stage last season, you could already see the makeup of who would finish in the top 6 at the end of the season. It’s not that clear this season, although I’d bet the house that Leinster will be up at the top end and attempting to restore order by lifting the trophy next May!
Leinster has made some very notable changes to the team that lost to the Cheetahs last week:
15. Joey Carbery
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Noel Reid
11. Dave Kearney
10. Johnny Sexton CAPTAIN
9. Luke McGrath
1. Jack McGrath
2. Seán Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. Scott Fardy
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Seán O’Brien
16. Bryan Byrne
17. Ed Byrne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Ross Molony
20. Max Deegan
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Ross Byrne
23. Jordan Larmour
As mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of players back from injury and rest periods, and it’s great to have them back. Number 15-9 is very interesting as it holds some potentially promising partnerships and some old guards hoping to reestablish themselves within the squad. Rory O’Loughlin and Noel Reid will be an important partnership to watch as they could very well become a regular for Leinster given that Ringrose and Henshaw may be away for quite a chunk of the season with Ireland duty. The two players have performed very well over the past few weeks, especially Reid who has shown that his defensive strength is almost as strong as his attacking strength. He’s developed into a very well rounded and reliable player for Leinster. Rory O’Loughlin has had a shaky start to the season but has acquitted himself well over the last couple of games by putting in some impressive shifts out on the wing and in the centre.
I’m a big fan of Fergus McFadden and if he can get a good string of games together, don’t be surprised if he pops up on Joe Schmidt’s radar again. Injuries have kept him out of contention but his attacking power and wise rugby brain is so valuable to Leinster. Dave Kearney has been very impressive since he’s returned from injury woes, and he’s nailed onto the 11 shift as long as he keeps up this high level of consistent performances. Luke McGrath returns as scrum half after a MOTM performance against the Southern Kings two weeks ago. He has become a crucial part of the Leinster setup and will undoubtedly have a big impact on the result tomorrow night.
The final man that makes up the back line is good aul Johnny Sexton who not only returns to pull the strings at out-half, but will also captain the side tomorrow. So, needless to say, we can expect a grumpy head shouting at everyone from the off, and apart from me, Johnny will be doing the same on the pitch! It’s absolutely welcomed by the players and fans alike I’m sure (Johnny, not me). He was a crucial component of the Lions’ success during the summer tour and he will of course bring a wealth of skill and knowledge to the Leinster squad once more. This team has been low on leadership over the past few weeks so it’s a captaincy like Sexton’s which has been sorely missed and will surely be highly beneficial going forward.
In the pack, we have a lot of returnees in the form of Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Scott Fardy and Sean O’Brien. In a word, power!! These guys know how to get beyond the gain line with each collision and have huge leadership skills to drive this team forward. Devin Toner is also back to steady the scrum and line-out while Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and Cronin will provide immense backup and solidity as the ruck. Cheeky prediction, Cronin to score a try in the second half!
The Leinster bench has a very youthful look to it which is great to see. Cullen knows that these young lads need to be further developed and it’ll give them a great opportunity to showcase their talents again at the RDS towards the latter end of the game.
Edinburgh have strength in their pack and also have some threatening backs to irritate our defensive structure, but with the team that Leinster has selected, I feel that the away team will have more to worry about coming into this game. That being said, there is a big however! This Leinster team has not performed together in any shape or form since May and there will undoubtedly be some rustiness in there, so don’t go expecting some champagne rugby from minute one. Cockrell has made 9 changes to the team that were defeated by Scarlets last weekend so there could be a bit of rustiness in there for them too but the squad has been playing together each week in some form or another. I reckon that the first half will be tight but as we get to the end of the half, Leinster will be ahead.
Where the game will be won
I don’t think the result of this game will come down to whoever has the better day from the kicking tee. I think huge ambition will need to be shown from both sides to go for tries and bonus points, so I would expect that we’ll see both Edinburgh and Leinster opt for kicks to the corner rather than taking 3 points that may present themselves. The reason for this is that Cockrell knows that Sexton is going to be kicking over points all day long if he has the opportunity, and Edinburgh’s Jason Tovey won’t be able to match the skill at out-half. Edinburgh’s only hope of taking a win at the RDS will come only if they let loose and show that ambition and try line hunger that they showed in the earlier stages of this season. Leinster too will want to make up for their disappointing game last weekend by bouncing back with a big win at home. Maximum points will be in their sights and I think there will be balls kicked to the corner even when easy kicks at goal are available. I think both teams will have their purple patches and will score some tries in this match. Keep an eye on the scrums during this match too, I think Leinster will have the ascendancy in that area and this could be the platform used were one or two tries will be scored from.
Here’s what Leo Cullen has to say ahead of the game tomorrow:
“It’s good to be back here at the RDS after our trip away. It’s nice to have a number of guys back in the mix and it feels like we’re at the start of the season now where we have closer to the full squad available to us.”
“A good experience away the last number of weeks but it’s nice to be back at the RDS which leads into Munster and Europe. A really big block of games for us.
We’ve had short prep this week, a lot of guys didn’t get back to Monday. Full squad back together on Wednesday but some of the prep began last week but always a challenge coming into your first game of the season against a team that has been together for five/six weeks so that’s going to be a challenge.”
“We need to be a bit more ruthless in our preparation is one of the big things. We were off the back of three very positive results but maybe the overall results hid a few things in our performance and then we came unstuck against the Cheetahs at the weekend so need a bit more ruthlessness in how we prepare for games and that’s the message.”
It’s heartening to hear that Leo is aware that there are things to work on and that they want to be more ruthless. Lets see how that message translates into the performance!
Although Leinster has made a lot of changes this week, I think that the number of world class players we have selected will be too much for Edinburgh. I don’t think the Scots will be able to cope with the power of our pack and the speed of our backs for 80 minutes. So, I think Leinster will spend the first quarter finding their feet and reintegrating their absent players back into the systems before unleashing the power plays. But when they do, and they will, they will pull away. I expect a big win for the boys in blue with a bonus point at the end. I don’t expect Edinburgh to keep up with us past 60 minutes and this is where daylight will show on the scoreboard.
Leinster 36, Edinburgh 12.