Where were you on Friday May 19th 2017? I was at work, working hard of course. But I also had cleared part of my work schedule to make some time to watch the Pro12 Semi Final, so maybe not working as hard as I could I suppose. Leinster faced Scarlets at the RDS. What a great occasion, another home semi final at the D4tress and another opportunity to get to a league final and claim a 5th title in the Pro12. No home team had lost a home semi final in the competition’s history, and Leinster were strong favourites to keep that record intact in front of a packed out RDS.
Well, it just didn’t work out well for Leinster that day, it was a game that we all wanted to forget given the very uncharacteristic performance from the boys in blue. Don’t get me wrong, Scarlets deserved to win but it was the manner in which Leinster fell to defeat that was the most heart breaking thing to take. Scarlets got a red card in the first half but still won the game very comfortably. What made my heart sink the most was the fact that Leinster looked like they could win both the Champions Cup and Pro12 only one month before this fixture, but then the cohesion in the squad fell apart so quickly. As Leo Cullen said after the match, we kept our worst performance for the semi final.
This weekend, Leinster will look to right some wrongs from that dreary night in May and give current champions Scarlets a reminder of how strong the boys in blue are. They’ll need to be tough because Scarlets will have no fear returning to the RDS, a place where they shared great memories and were the second team to come away with a win in 3 years.
Below is the team that Cullen has selected for tomorrow’s game at the RDS, KO 3:15pm:
15. Jordan Larmour (14)
14. Adam Byrne (32)
13. Rory O’Loughlin (34)
12. Noel Reid (94)
11. James Lowe (5)
10. Ross Byrne (42)
9. Luke McGrath (89) CAPTAIN
1. Ed Byrne (18)
2. Seán Cronin (145)
3. Michael Bent (100)
4. Ross Molony (56)
5. Scott Fardy (14)
6. Josh Murphy (4)
7. Jordi Murphy (99)
8. Max Deegan (12)
16. Richardt Strauss (152)
17. Peter Dooley (43)
18. Oisín Heffernan (2)
19. Ian Nagle (14)
20. Will Connors (1)
21. Nick McCarthy (18)
22. Ciarán Frawley (0)
23. Barry Daly (19)
Cullen has made 7 changes to squad for this weekend. Given the number of players currently snuggled under Joe Schmidt’s wing, this is not a bad looking team. It’s quiet balanced and where there are some new comers, hopefully some future talent will blossom.
There are some Irish international returnees for this week; Luke McGrath (our captain for the weekend), Jordan Larmour, and Sean Cronin. There are a total of 4 other internationals in the match day squad too in the form of Fardy, Strauss, Murphy and Bent.
Having Luke McGrath back is crucial, the importance of his leadership cannot be understated and his determination and drive that exudes from him each time he togs out in blue is a great sight to behold. He’ll partner Ross Byrne who has been on song for the whole season so far, he’ll undoubtedly have another major influence on the result of this match (no pressure). The most exciting element of this team selection in my opinion is the 11-15 selection; Lowe, Reid, O’Loughlin, Byrne and Larmour. All of these guys are try scoring and try assisting machines. Against a team like Scarlets, that kind of firepower will be key if we are to come out on the winning side, especially when you know how dangerous and potent Scarlet’s attack is.
Jordi Murphy will earn his 100th cap while newcomer Ciarán Frawley will be in line to make his first appearance for Leinster. Oisín Heffernan and Will Connors (3 caps between them) will be hoping to further impress Cullen should they be unleashed from the bench.
Scarlets have made two changes to the side that was defeated by Treviso last weekend. Gatland has not released internationals from his squad so Scarlets have to dig deep in their squad again this weekend. However, they do have strong side with attacking/defensive strengths throughout the match day squad.
Leinster’s team sheet looks to have more of a punch to it, especially in the backs. As much as this might fill me with confidence however, don’t forget what happened last May. We had the superior team sheet, the home advantage and better form coming into the match, but got overwhelmed by a super confident and well drilled young Scarlets side.
Where the game will be won.
The game will be won at the RDS…….. I’ll get my coat. This match has the makings of a real battle and exciting spectacle. The two sides are currently at the top of Conference B, Leinster having a nose ahead on points difference. This game will be one of the most important games of the remaining fixtures, the other being the reverse fixture in two weeks time at Parc Y Scarlets stadium. Leinster come into this game having lost to Edinburgh last weekend. It was a game which Leinster looked to have won, only to lose concentration in the 78 minute and concede a try that reversed the final result. Leinster managed to score 4 tries and lose within 7 points so they secured 2 very valuable points. But lapses in defensive concentration will be punished further if we allow Scarlets break into our 22 too often.
I feel that although Leinster has a stronger team on paper, Scarlets will not be fearful, they’ll take confidence in what happened last season at the same venue and will look to approach the game with a free flowing approach and try to disrupt Leinster’s defensive structure out wide. It’s an area in which Leinster have been caught napping in recent times and if it’s not covered in this game, we could see Leinster huddles under the sticks more than we’d like to. Absolute focus, especially in the pack, will be key to keeping Scarlets speedy runners at bay. The pack will need to be as sharp in defense as in attack, and be ready to deploy our backs effectively and at the right time. When you look at the stats from both teams, even though Leinster has score the most points and tries, Scarlets have conceded fewer points and tries, making them the most disciplined side in the conference.
I think Scarlets will be very up for this game, the young lads will want to barge their way into the squad on a more permanent basis and who else to show off all your skills than a match against Leinster! Although Scarlets always pose a massive threat and have only lost the same amount of games as us, I feel that Leinster will feel that they have a point to prove, a bone to pick, and a massive statement of intent to put out their to all other opponents. Leinster’s match day squad looks a lot more cohesive and able to cause massive problems for the Scarlets. I think the early exchanges will go the visitors way but towards the end of the first quarter, we’ll see Leinster click and start their scoring. From then on, I think it’ll be a very positive game from the home side and we’ll bring some daylight to the scoreboard before the 50 minute mark.
Cheeky prediction, both James Lowe and Jordan Larmour will score a try in the first half!
Forget about last May, trust in the new look Leinster squad, the boys in blue will not leave scarlet this time around!
Leinster 32 – Scarlets 20