Leinster is on a roll with 5 wins in a row, 4 of which have been against some of our toughest opponents in the Champions Cup and Pro14 (Munster, Montpellier, Glasgow, Ulster). After coming away with maximum points from the first two rounds of our “group of death” in the Champions Cup, and also coming out on the right side of the scoreboard in two Irish derbys is a massive achievement for this Leinster squad.
In my opinion, the fixture that epitimised Leinster’s intent and hunger this season came against Glasgow at Scotstoun in the Champions Cup two weeks ago. There was a lot of “if we can come away with a losing bonus point, I’d be happy with that” and “we’ll be lucky to scrape a win” before this match and I myself pondered the value and possibility of a losing bonus point. However, we came away with maximum points and I’m sure the Leinster squad came away with a lot more than that, namely huge confidence and pride.
Normally after a big fixture like that, we can draw a line in the sand and think of other tough opponents who will prove equally tough opposition. However, this isn’t the case as two weeks on from that battle in Scotland, Leinster are returning once more to take on Glasgow at home in the Pro14! There is literally no rest for the wicked here, on both sides!
My previous write up on the same head to head fixture two weeks ago was tough in terms of working out how the game might play out. This time around, I think it’s even harder to figure out how this game will go. Will lightening strike in the same place twice? Well, it all depends on a few key factors. Firstly, lets look at the team that Cullen has selected for this match:
15. Jordan Larmour
14. Adam Byrne
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Conor O’Brien
11. Dave Kearney
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson-Park
1. Ed Byrne
2. Seán Cronin
3. Michael Bent
4. Ross Molony CAPTAIN
5. Mick Kearney
6. Scott Fardy
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Max Deegan
16. Richardt Strauss
17. Peter Dooley
18. Andrew Porter
19. Josh Murphy
20. Dan Leavy
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Cathal Marsh
23. Hugo Keenan
There are 12 Irish international players missing from this team who played Ulster last weekend, with 5 internationals left over to sprinkle over the team sheet. So, a lot of trust and pressure has been put on the young lads to step up and produce the goods while the more familiar faces are off at international duty. Rather than go through each and every omission one by one, I’m just going to point out some key areas in this team selection that initially causes some concern for me.
Lets start in the centre. Rory O’Loughlin will start at 13 where he has on few occasions this season already. Not the most experienced option we have in that position but while Henshaw is off with Ireland, Ringrose, Nacewa and Reid all out injured, Cullen has looked to our potent winger who has performed admirably in the centre already this season. The most concerning part however is O’Loughlin’s partner in the centre, Conor O’Brien. You know this guy don’t you? No? Well, me neither to be honest. Conor is a 21 year old centre from Mullingar and has been a regular starter for the Leinster A team. He will be getting his first cap for the Leinster senior squad tomorrow and what a start to his senior career this will be as the opposition in the Pro14 doesn’t really get much tougher than this. As I don’t know a lot more about this guy, I’m just hopeful that he dazzles us all and scores three tries under the posts!
There is another guy in the match day 23 that will get his first cap too and that is Josh Murphy, the 22 year old flanker from Dublin. I don’t know a lot about this guy either but again, he’s been a mainstay for Leinster A over the past couple of seasons, and we will certainly know a lot more about him for my post match review!
Ross Malony will captain the side tomorrow which he has done successfully in the past so I’m not too worried out this. Albeit untried and untested so far this season, it’s a youthful but potentially strong Leinster team selection.
Now that we’ve seen the Leinster team, lets review the Glasgow selection. The Warriors too have omitted a lot of their big gun internationals (11 in total) for tomorrow as the Scots prepare to take on Samoa on Saturday week. So, it’s fairly even in terms of their strength and unknowns going into this game. But remember, Glasgow will be at home, as will their supporters who will undoubtedly be in very vocal form to ensure their team doesn’t fall to the boys in blue twice in three weeks!
Where the game will be won
Weather-wise, it looks like it will be cloudy with showers tomorrow in Scotstoun, so we can expect a slippery ball. Also, given the massive changes among the selection on both sides, there could be some rustiness afoot for both teams. The team that adapts to this the fastest will gain huge advantage as the more pressure that can be put on these young players, the possibility of more errors and system malfunctions that could arise.
Although there might be some rustiness and some spells of rain to add to the mix, I think these two teams will be well prepared. Both squads have already shown their impeccable ball handling skills and have incorporated many young players into their respective teams already this season. The strength in depth on both sides is what makes both teams highly competitive and dangerous propositions. So, I don’t feel that the elements will decide this match. Instead, I think it will be more of a mental battle and whomever comes out onto the pitch with the least nerves and higher tenacity will come out on top.
You could see in the last game away to Glasgow, even after Leinster went down 10,3 early on, they had a more steely approach to their game, a spring in their step, and a collective drive which resulted in great cohesion among the squad throughout the 80 minutes. These attributes acted as the platform upon which Leinster executed their attacking strategy. There was very little between the sides in terms of skill, so it was through a collective hunger and ambition that saw Leinster come out on top that day. I know this may appear that I’m looking through those damn blue tinted glasses (which may I add is great to see through) but after watching back over that match, you could see that the Leinster players truly wanted the win more than Glasgow. There was more resolve, calmness, back slapping, lightening fast line speed, and hard as nails approach from the boys in blue, so much so that no matter the skill and power displayed by the home side, it was just not enough to overcome the visitors on the day. I feel that the same type of mental preparation will be crucial tomorrow evening.
Leinster are certainly up against it this week. They are missing so many players and this will surely have an impact on their training ground set plays and overall performance. Glasgow too will be under a lot of pressure, they have an unbeaten record in the Pro14 this season and will not want to lose that to Leinster, let alone on their home turf (or 3G artificial pitch). Peter Horne at 10 is a huge advantage for Glasgow and you would expect the home side to pull away on the scoreboard if he is allowed control the territory and given shots at goal. Ross Byrne will need to bring his A game and although he may not be able to emulate the leadership of Johnny Sexton, his game management ability will be crucial in keeping our attack and defence in line.
I don’t expect a lot of flashy rugby but I expect a good few tries in this match. Leinster has the key to unlocking the strongest defences and given their strength and quality in depth, I think they might just have enough to topple the Conference A leaders!
Glasgow 28 – Leinster 31