So, another week, another final. It just doesn’t get any better than this for a Leinster supporter, and the Leinster players of course! As most of us are still coming to terms with the enormity of Leinster’s incredible achievements already this year, we have another massive milestone in Leinster’s history to consider, a potential 5th successful league title which no other team has achieved so far since the tournament was conceived. There’s also the double (winning both Champions Cup and Pro14 competitions in the same season) to think about, no team has ever achieved this, although Leinster has been in a similar opportunity to do it three times previously. Well, you could say that Leinster has already completed a double in 2013 when they won the Challenge Cup and Pro12 (and the B&I Cup which technically makes it a treble) but I feel that this is the big one, we need to win the highest honours by lifting the two biggest trophies on offer. This is beyond exciting and it’s a great opportunity to give the aul nerves another rattle and get the blue blood pumping one last time before the 2017/18 season comes to a close. Now, I feel it’s important to point out that Leinster has already achieved something extremely special this year by
winning the 6 Nations Grand Slam securing their 4th star following Champions Cup success and adding to Adidas’ embroidering expenses. However, how special would it be to go on and win the Pro14 too in the warm sunshine in front of a packed out Aviva Stadium? That’s a rhetorical question!
With human behaviour, it’s a common trait in us all to experience a drop in the level of satisfaction that we derive from something the more we consume it. There is a law that references this behaviour and it’s called the law of diminishing marginal utility. This law states; “As a consumer consumes more and more units of a specific commodity, the utility from the successive units goes on diminishing”. An example of this would be if you eat a sweet, the initial utility/satisfaction gained from eating it will be higher than the second, and the second will be higher than the third and so on and so forth. Another example which could be used is Leinster’s upcoming Pro14 final tomorrow. Leinster won the Champions Cup two weeks ago and added another European trophy to the jam packed cabinet back at HQ. Now Leinster are in another position 14 days later to lift another trophy and somehow squeeze it into that heavily space deprived cabinet! But in this scenario, does the situation of being in another final so soon decrease the utility that the players and supporters derive from the occasion? For me, the Champions Cup is the most important piece of silverware and holds a lot more weight in terms of success than any other on offer to Leinster. As the lads at Blues Talk TV put it, the Champions Cup is the starter, main course and desert, and the Pro14 is the cherry on the top of the desert. I’d probably give the Pro14 more credit and say it’s the entire desert but the double is the cherry on top, but you get the idea!
If Leinster were to lose tomorrow, the utility (satisfaction) that I got from the Champions Cup success this season would help me get over it very quickly. However, if we win tomorrow, I honestly don’t feel that I’d experience a dip in satisfaction, in fact, I think it would feel more special than if we only won the Pro14 title. Reason being, there’s history on the line, but more importantly, there’s a massive opportunity for Leinster to achieve it’s highest glory by dominating the league and championship. Now that’s a sweet I’ve never tasted and just the thought of it is mouth watering!
Lets take a look at the team Leo Cullen has selected for the final:
15. Rob Kearney (196)
14. Jordan Larmour (21)
13. Garry Ringrose (49)
12. Isa Nacewa (184) CAPTAIN
11. James Lowe (12)
10. Johnny Sexton (147)
9. Luke McGrath (94)
1. Cian Healy (190)
2. Seán Cronin (152)
3. Tadhg Furlong (83)
4. Devin Toner (217)
5. James Ryan (14)
6. Rhys Ruddock (141)
7. Dan Leavy (53)
8. Jack Conan (73)
16. James Tracy (65)
17. Jack McGrath (132)
18. Andrew Porter (29)
19. Scott Fardy (21)
20. Jordi Murphy (106)
21. Nick McCarthy (27)
22. Joey Carbery (36)
23. Rory O’Loughlin (41)
Wow!! 13 Irish internationals in the starting 15. Another 7 internationals on the bench! What more can be said, it’s a jam packed, fully locked and loaded team, not very dissimilar to the squad that took on Racing in the final two weeks ago. There are a couple of very interesting/welcome calls however which are worth pointing out. Firstly, Cullen has opted to start Ruddock at 6 instead of Fardy who will take a place on the bench. It’s a very interesting choice, surely down to some part of the game place Cullen has chosen for Scarlets. I would have opted to start Fardy given his immense contributions to our success this season each time he’s played. However, maybe he shot himself in the foot last week as he was incredible off the bench against Munster, so it must have been tempting for Cullen to have someone of his top drawer quality lying in wait on the bench again.
Secondly, James Lowe has been selected to start which I feel is a very good choice given his explosive skill and overall work ethic this season. With 9 tries to his name after 11 games, it must have been simply too irresistible to leave him out of the match day squad. Of course, that comes with a cost at scrum half as Gibson Park will have to watch the final from the stands due to the non-European player quota rules playing its part in Cullen’s selection choices. This means Nick McCarthy gets another opportunity to shine on the big stage should Luke McGrath leave the field of play.
ISA ISA ISA!!! What a man, what a player, what a legend of the game. Hands down one of the greatest players to play for any Irish team in my opinion. He’s got four European winners medals in his back pocket and was a massive component in securing much of Leinster’s success over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, his time at Leinster is coming to an end, and what an ending it would be if he’s sent off with another medal to his name! Isa will captain the side for the final time tomorrow, a very fitting end to his glittering career. The other players have spoken about his tough as nails attitude and that they would love to send him off with a big Pro14 final victory. I’m sure the man himself is going to put in a massive performance himself given it’s his final game with his beloved club.
We already understand the massive strength of our backs and pack so I won’t harp on too much about that. The main thing I’d like to focus on is Leinster’s squad throughout this championship journey. 55 players have been used throughout this campaign, it’s incredible to see so many players being utilised and developed. Ahead of the final tomorrow, lot of credit must go to all of the players who have missed out on selection this week but ensured we would get to this stage. The likes of the try scoring hero that is Barry Daly, the solid quick ball merchant Jamison Gibson Park, Ross Byrne aka ‘The Sniper’ (Rugby Spotlight trademarked), Fergus Mc Fadden, Sean O’Brien and Dave Kearney who have been very unlucky with injuries, Josh Van Der Flier, Robbie Henshaw, and Noel Reid to name just a few! It’s the non-internationals that have been keeping Leinster at the top of the Pro14 all season, now it’s a opportunity for the 23 selected for tomorrow to finish it off and bring home the hard-fought-for trophy!
Where the game will be won
Scarlets will not want to lose this game, in Dublin, again! They’ll be determined to get back to winning ways after their Pro12 success at the same stadium one year ago. They have an opportunity to do what only one other side (Leinster) has done and win back to back Pro14 championships. They certainly have the squad, the determination and the skills to do it. Of all of the other 12 teams in the Pro14, Scarlets are probably the closest to Leinster in terms of their ambition, hunger, and overall quality. They are a team very much in their ascendancy phase and look to be getting better and better over the last couple of years. They are most likely still hurting after being hammered by Leinster 38-16 at the Aviva Stadium last month in the Champions Cup semi final, and I’m sure they’ve reviewed that game in granular detail leading up to this match. I would however assume that they have focused their attention at lot more on the Champions Cup final match and Leinster’s game against Munster last weekend at the RDS. In both games, Leinster were put under massive pressure at the breakdown and at times looked to lose the battle in that area. Although Leinster’s pack are superior to the majority of opponents, a lot of Leinster’s game plan and match winning success has come from their ability to set up superb set plays following quick ball from the ruck. Racing were able to nullify a lot of Leinster’s attacking strength by heavily contesting the breakdown and slowing Leinster’s ball. This turned the match into an arm wrestle and although we still came out on the winning side, it was a small weakness noticed and capitalised on by the French side.
Munster at times tried the same approach in the Pro14 semi final last weekend and again you could see Leinster struggle slightly to move up field as Munster battled hard at every ruck and maul to slow Leinster down. Again, Leinster still went on to win the match but it’s another example of an area in which Scarlets may try to upset Leinster’s attacking strength. Of course, I’m sure Cullen and Co have noticed all of this and have a plan to protect their own ball and distribute it effectively this time around but if they are to show glimpses of their break down frailties in the final tomorrow, we may see Scarlets taking the game to Leinster and ultimately see Scarlets enjoying a lot of time in Leinster’s half of the field. If that’s to happen, Leinster also need to keep their ‘bread and butter’ strength intact and unchanged, and that’s of course their defence. The Leinster defence has been incredible all season, there’s been very few occasions where soft tries have been handed to their opposition. The defensive structures do not need to change and Scarlets know that it’ll take a big effort to get over that white wash if Leinster are switched on in this department. So, I’d expect that they will take every opportunity to increase their chances by kicking to the corner at every opportunity and taking 3 points when kickable. I don’t see them going through 40 phases to get to the try line, I’d expect them to opt for cross field kicks and grubbers for the corner so that they can try to maul over the line. Defence will be key and it’ll win the match.
With a trophy and more record breaking on the line for both teams, I don’t expect either side to not show up for this game. There’s a new blue vs red rivalry in the Pro14 and I can see it developing a lot over the coming seasons. Leinster have built a squad that won’t give up and do not accept any outcome other than victory. Although Scarlets look sharp, exciting to watch and full of great talented players, I just can’t see how they can overcome such a strong Leinster side that have developed an incredible winning culture. I feel that they will be too composed for Scarlets and my cheeky prediction is that they will gain an early lead and won’t lose it. Scarlets are as tough as nails and hungry for success tomorrow night but Leinster are like lions, ferociously strong and relentless in attack. I can see Scarlets staying close towards half time but once we get to the last 15 minutes of the second half, I can see Leinster moving clear on the scoreboard to set up another day of glory for the boys in blue.
Leinster 30 – Scarlets 16
Match day result: Leinster 40 – Scarlets 32