Round two of the Champions Cup sees Leinster take on Glasgow away at Scotstoun stadium. There is certainly no easy team in Pool 3 and Leinster face another tough challenge after defeating Montpellier at the RDS last weekend.
There are five changes in total to the team that Leo Cullen sent out to the RDS battlefield last weekend in round one. Adam Byrne and Isa Nacewa are most notable. Nacewa is out injured and Byrne’s omission is most likely a tactical one. Byrne has been one of Leinster’s most powerful attacking weapons over the last few games but he still has some lessons to learn in defense. I believe Cullen is approaching this game with a more defensive game plan in mind and as a result, he’s called upon the services of Fergus McFadden to steady the wing and bring his vast attacking/defensive experience to our game. Noel Reid will partner Robbie Henshaw in the centre, with Henshaw retaining the 13 jersey. It’s great to see Henshaw slotting in at 13 again as his man of the match performance last week was nothing less than a masterclass of skill, drive and ambition.
Scott Fardy returns after being pulled from the team late last week. And of course, Johnny Sexton is back fit after getting a dead leg against Munster two weeks ago. His experience, immense skill and leadership will be crucial tomorrow afternoon. He will also captain the side tomorrow which he has proven to be very competent at! Barry Daly has retained his position on the opposite wing to McFadden and will undoubtedly show us more of that pace and skill which is a joy to watch week in week out. Cheeky prediction, Barry Daly to score Leinster’s first try! Another couple of returnees are Dave Kearney and Dan Leavy. The returning Leavy is a sight for sore eyes, he has been a very important cog in the Leinster wheel for quite some time and it will be very interesting to see what kind of impact he has off the bench. So too with Kearney who has been so unlucky with injuries over the past 12 months. He will be hoping to put a string of games together and show us all some of that attacking flair he is so well renowned for.
It’s set to be a rainy day in Scotstoun tomorrow so I would predict that basic handling skills will be key to the success of both teams. Leinster’s handling skills have been impeccable overall in recent weeks with the team being able to put double digit phases together on regular occasions. It’s clear that following the tail end of last season, a big emphasis on ball control and handling skills has been made. This was a major issue for Leinster in the final few games last season, causing lots of frustration for the players and supporters alike.
Judging by the serious scrummagers that Leinster has selected (Healy, Furlong, Ruddock and Cronin), I would expect Leinster to dominate in this area. Glasgow’s scrum has been far from on point in recent games, they are struggling to control the scrum and get any advantage from it. I’m sure Leinster will target this area and test the likes of Jonny Gray, Jamie Bhatti and Zander Fagerson. Stuart Hogg returns for Glasgow after getting
assaulted injured during the Lions tour. You might remember, he picked up a serious blow to the head when he ran full speed into Conor Murray’s elbow! Hogg is a world class full back and will present a massive threat throughout this match. He is however just back from injury and it could take him some time to get back into the swing of things, hopefully Leinster can take advantage of any rustiness from him.
Scotstoun has been a very tough place to go for Leinster over the past few seasons, we have failed to come away with a win in the last 3 encounters in Scotland. Glasgow are also playing some of their best rugby this season and are 6 wins from 6 in the Pro14. They lost to Exeter last weekend and failed to get a losing bonus point so make no mistake, they are very fired up for tomorrow as they know a win is paramount if they are to challenge for the knockout stages.
Where the game will be won
Leinster will need to be pretty much at their best to get out of Scotland with a win. The weather will certainly play a part in the result so the winner of this match will be the one with the better strategy and ball handling skills. There is very little between the two sides this season as both have been deploying very attack minded game plans since the beginning of the season, and both have been very successful in this area. I don’t think that many tries will be scored and instead, I feel that the result may be decided on who has a better day off the kicking tee. Both out halves (Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell) have been in great form leading up to this match and know how to control their game as well as keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
As mentioned earlier, the scrum will play some part in the result also. Leinster will look to gain dominance in this area while Glasgow will try to mend the scrum defects that have been following them throughout the season to date. The lineout for both teams has been quite effective over the past couple of weeks so I wouldn’t imagine either side will gain advantage over the other in that area. One area that Glasgow will look to thwart Leinster is at the ruck. Leinster has been ineffective at protecting the ball at the ruck at crucial moments, it’s something that needs to get fixed soon before it’s exposed further by our opponents.
Leinster has not had successful trips to Glasgow in recent times and Glasgow has been in fantastic form so far this season. They are surely hurting from last weekend’s defeat to Exeter and will want to reignite their campaign at home tomorrow. However, Leinster has looked very composed, strong, clinical and highly aggressive in their attack over the last two weeks and seem to be growing stronger each week. I expect Leinster to come out and put in a very positive shift again this weekend. I do not expect a big winning margin on the scoreboard for the boys in blue but I do expect a win for them.
Glasgow 19, Leinster 21