There is no rest for the wicked in the Pro14 and Champions Cup around this time of year! For Leinster, they’ve just come off 3 Irish derbies in 11 days which finished up last weekend and now they’re straight back into round 5 of the Champions Cup to take on Glasgow Warriors at the RDS. 5 wins from 5 is a great return for the boys in blue during that period. Glasgow on the other hand have had mixed results with only 2 wins from their last 5 games.
Last time we met Glasgow in the Champions Cup, we came out on the winning side by the margin of 18 points to 34 at Scotstoun stadium. It was a great bonus point winning performance from a team that were 10 nil down at one point in the first half. This fixture crystallised Leinster’s intent in this competition as it was expected by most at the time that we’d come away with a losing bonus point from that game, it just goes to show how the media has changed their tune since then as backing Leinster as favourites to win the tournament in May. Funnily enough, that prediction came from most doubters straight after our victory over the Scots. The boys in blue improved their game and raised their already very high standards even more to get another two wins in the Champions Cup against Exeter to bring us to round 5 undefeated. Glasgow on the other hand, despite only losing 1 game in 14 in the the Pro14, have lost all of the 4 games in the Champions Cup. This proves the extra gear and level of intensity most teams switch into when it comes to Europe. As a result of Glasgow’s dire return from 4 fixtures, they are well and truly out of the competition and only have pride to play for in round 5. This leads me to wonder what kind of team will jog out onto the RDS pitch in terms of mentality and hunger. Will they be more focused on their incredible Pro14 progress or will they be intent on defeating their league rivals away from home? I wouldn’t be surprised if they go with the latter and come out all guns blazing. Glasgow has become a very proud club over the last few seasons and part of the threat and fear factor that they exude is down to their never give up attitude. I doubt we’ll see a weak performance from the Pro14 table toppers. However, I do not expect a conservative performance from the home side either!
Both sides are putting out strong teams, another sign that Glasgow are not conceding defeat before the kick off whistle is blown. Below is the team that Leo Cullen has chosen for Sunday’s game, KO 1pm at the RDS:
15. Jordan Larmour (12)
14. Fergus McFadden (162)
13. Robbie Henshaw (20)
12. Isa Nacewa (177) (CAPTAIN)
11. James Lowe (3)
10. Johnny Sexton (143)
9. Luke McGrath (86)
1. Jack McGrath (123)
2. Seán Cronin (143)
3. Tadhg Furlong (76)
4. Devin Toner (209)
5. Scott Fardy (12)
6. Jordi Murphy (97)
7. Josh van der Flier (58)
8. Jack Conan (65)
16. Bryan Byrne (20)
17. Cian Healy (182)
18. Andrew Porter (20)
19. James Ryan (8)
20. Dan Leavy (47)
21. Nick McCarthy (17)
22. Ross Byrne (39)
23. Rob Kearney (191)
There are 14 changes to the Leinster side that hammered Ulster last weekend. Some big guns are back in the fray this week. Robbie Henshaw is returns at 13 and will be partnered by the returning Isa Nacewa at 12 who will also captain the team. James Lowe gets the nod out on the wing while the rejuvenated and back in form Fergus McFadden will cover the opposite wing. McFadden has shown so much passion in his performances over the last few games and has been a key player for the boys in the blue. It’s really great to see him backing himself and becoming a try scoring hero again. My cheeky prediction is that he will score the first try for Leinster on Sunday!
Johnny Sexton is back in the number 10 jersey while the ever improving Ross Byrne is moved to the bench. It’s great to now have two excellent out halves to choose from, and we still have Joey Carbery to return who isn’t too shabby himself. Luke McGrath will come back into the scrum half position where he has truly made it his own, his understudy Nick McCarthy will provide cover on the bench. There’s no argument over who should be backing up Conor Murray at 9 for Ireland going forward, Luke McGrath has become a very influential player. James Tracy picked up an injury against Ulster last week so Sean Cronin will start, with Bryan Byrne as his back up on the bench should he be required.
In the pack, we have immense strength with Jordi Murphy and Josh Van der Flier coming back in to complete a pack that includes Furlong, Toner, Fardy and Conan.
On the bench, we have further international quality to unleash on Glasgow. Cian Healy is back in the mix following his 3 game suspension, and Andrew Porter will be looking to impress Schmidt again like he did against Ulster. James Ryan is also back following injury, while Dan Leavy and Rob Kearney will not upset anyone in the stands if and when they’re brought on (unless you’re a Glasgow supporter of course).
I’m hearing the “brothers” tag more and more each week throughout the squad and it’s a sign that these lads have been putting in a lot of work not just on but off the pitch to bond and build on the cohesion among the squad. These band of brothers have been seamlessly able to keep tempos high and skills sharp even while Cullen makes an average of 12-18 changes to the team sheets week in and week out. If you look at the selections over the last month against very strong opposition (Exeter twice, Munster, Connacht and Ulster), Leinster has made wholesale changes for the majority of these games. And remember, all of those 5 games were played within 4 weeks! The last time we saw these kind of changes being made were during international periods, and when those times came in the past, we as supporters would feel wary of rustiness setting in and a lower level of match day performances as a result. No need to feel wary again my Leinster supporting brothers, the actual effect that all of these changes have had this season has had the a positive result in that Leinster’s performances are becoming more all rounded and sharper. You can see the lads are playing for each other and are all focused on the same goal, winning!! It’s a very exciting time to be a Leinster supporter, they have a very real opportunity to win both competitions this year. The only team in Europe in my opinion who stand in their way is Clermont, who have also been riding high in their pool. They have however been hit with a few injuries to some key players which in turn has raised some doubt about their squad depth after being beaten out the gate by Racing 92 last weekend and lost at home against Castre the week before. They certainly have some big chinks in their armour whereas Leinster has managed extremely well with their squad despite resting many key players for some big games over the last couple of months. But enough about Clermont, we’ll talk more about them again when we face them at the Aviva in the semi final 😉 #cocky #probableoutcome.
So, back to Glasgow. The Scots have selected a very strong team themselves. If you look through that team, you may notice that they’re almost at full strength but when you look at the ages of these young Warriors, the oldest player selected is 24 (Adam Ashe)! This is incredible for Glasgow, they may have developed a young squad, but they are still physically and mentally stronger that most sides packed with tried and tested battle hardened players. Make no mistake, this young side will have no fear of taking on such a strong Leinster team packed with 18 internationals, we certainly have a challenge on our hands and it should be a huge battle, especially up front in the pack.
It’ll be very interesting to see what type of game plan Leinster deploys on Sunday. Last season, you could probably predict how they were going to perform, not that they were one-trick ponies, but more so because the squad played better in certain formations than others so it was clear which way they liked to play. This season however, Leinster tend to switch games plans to adapt to the conditions and the performance of their opposition, and they execute this to perfection. This is very reminiscent of our 2011 form and is very exciting to watch. If you look at the two tight encounters we had with Exeter in December, each time we went behind on the scoreboard the game-plan suddenly changed to adjust to the way the game was being brought to them. Leinster couldn’t do this very successfully last season, the Champions Cup semi final against Clermont being a perfect example. Leinster couldn’t live with the intensity of Clermont’s attacking threat and by the time Leinster tried to deploy a different approach in the second half, it was too late and was not effective enough to disrupt the home side. This season you would feel that Leinster are a lot more better equipped to handle anything that is thrown at them. There is a “bring it on” mentality coming from this group of players and a ruthless approach to every game.
Where the game will be won.
After looking at the weather forecast for Sunday, we can expect a dry day with a spot of cloud and some sunshine, and it looks like it will favour both sides in that they will most likely deploy a very attack minded approach. Especially for Glasgow who literally have nothing to lose, you would be foolish to think that they will opt for a defensive game. There could be a lot of training ground moves tested on Leinster so I expect to see a lot of free flowing rugby from our visitors, so our defense will need to be on point for the full 80 minutes. I would imagine that given the stage we’re now at in the Champions Cup and with another huge away game against Montpellier on the horizon, Leinster will be looking to secure maximum points against Glasgow as they hunt down that hallowed top seed spot to secure a home quarter final, and potentially a home semi. As a result, I expect a very attack minded approach from Leinster too, so although some 3 pointer kicks at goal may present themselves, don’t be surprised if Johnny decides to kick them straight to the corner instead. We could have a bit of a try fest on Sunday so this will be where the game is won, not some last minute penalty or a collection of 3 pointers to see the win home.
Although this will be a tough encounter as it always is and Glasgow are a very strong side both at home and on the road, Leinster has proven over the last couple of months at least that there is no challenge too strong right now that can topple the strength in this squad. Glasgow will start strongly and will look to get some tries in early but I expect Leinster to hold them out for the most part and probably stun the visitors with some creative attacking and counterattacking plays which we have become accustomed to. If Glasgow keep close to us on the scoreboard, they’ll keep the intensity high but if Leinster start creating daylight on the scoreboard, Glasgow won’t have the full motivation to mount a comeback.
This Leinster squad is filled with confidence much like last season, but the difference this season is that they have the right type of confidence now in that they are building on each performance and are showing hunger and ambition to drive on and improve. Last season we saw Leinster plateau around the 6 Nations period, and they slowly started to go adrift in terms of the level of performances they were putting in throughout the months before. This time around, I strongly believe Leinster will show evidence of improvement again at the RDS and will add more hurt to the Glasgow squad that has had a Champions Cup season they’ll want to forget.
Leinster 36 – Glasgow 15