Aaaaaaaaand, we’re back!!
As we all know, it was a fairytale of a season for the boys in blue last season. Double Champions!!! DOUBLE!! I still get a great buzz when thinking about it! Three months on the 4 star generals are back with new a Pro14 season and high hopes of retaining the trophy for 2018/19. Having not been able to see most of the Champions Cup final due to a conflicting holiday flight (major first world problem I know), I will most likely miss today’s first game of the season! For good reason of course, my wife and I are going to welcome a new addition to our family and a brand new Leinster supporter!
We start our Pro14 campaign as champions but we’re up against Cardiff Blues this evening who are also champions following their stunning victory against Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final.
Leinster go into this game having come out on the winning side following their last 14 meetings with this Welsh side. However, make no mistake, this is going to be a big challenge for this youthful Leinster side as Cardiff will be brimming with pride, passion and confidence following their taste of European success. It’s a great opportunity for the younger lads to impress Cullen & Co and for some to solidify a starting place on the team sheets. With it being a World Cup year, it’s all to play for, both for the competition itself and for the B team players looking to make a name for themselves.
Here’s the 23 man squad that Cullen has selected for our first away outing:
15. Dave Kearney
14. Adam Byrne
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Joe Tomane
11. Barry Daly
10. Ross Byrne
9. Luke McGrath
1. Peter Dooley
2. James Tracy
3. Michael Bent
4. Ross Molony
5. Scott Fardy
6. Josh Murphy
7. Rhys Ruddock CAPTAIN
8. Caelan Doris
16. Bryan Byrne
17. Ed Byrne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Mick Kearney
20. Max Deegan
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Noel Reid
23. Fergus McFadden
I’m expecting a lot of tries in this match following Cullen’s selection of a very fast paced back line. Dave Kearney, Ross Byrne Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin and last season’s top try scorer Barry Daly will be chomping at the bit and will surely provide our starting 10 Ross Byrne multiple options when he deploys his trademark sniper cross field kicks with these great attackers.
Joe Tomane will be very interesting to watch as he will partner O’Loughlin at 12 in the centre. Tomane is by no means a replacement for Nacewa but he has an attitude, immense skill set and an abundance of experience that will undoubtedly make him a great addition to the squad.
Rhys Ruddock will captain the side, it’s great to see a player of his calibre back in the fray, his leadership will be crucial this season, such is the reason for his appointment as vice squad captain to Johnny Sexton.
If you’re not already aware of this upcoming talent, remember the name Caelan Doris. This No.8 has shown some really positive signs during preseason and his first cap last season (and a try on his debut). He’s one to watch for sure.
Our bench sees the return of Fergus McFadden who was out injured since suffering a leg injury after scoring a decisive try against Scarlets in the Champions Cup semi final. He is a very welcome sight as he was in blistering form last season, and was rewarded with a return to Irish duty during the 6 Nations. Here’s to that form continuing throughout this season!
Cardiff has put out a strong team for their first home game and will be looking to impress the home crowd. They showed a lot of spirit and attacking flair last season and I can only imagine that it will continue in its intensity this season.
Where the game will be won.
This result of this match will not be the beginning and end all for either team, but it’ll be highly analysed as it’s Champions against Champions. I feel that both teams tend to opt for an attacking style of play so I don’t see it being conservative in any shape or form. Instead, I think the backs on both sides will be given freedom to roam and the packs will be tested hard in defence. I don’t feel 3 pointers will be crucial, it’ll be the ambition shown by the backs who will decide the result.
At this very early stage of the season, it’s not very clear what level of performance will be produced by either side in terms of quality, so all we can go on is the team sheet. There’s evidence from Cardiff’s selection that they’re going to try out different approaches and bed in some players, such is the amount of brand new signings that Cardiff has included in the match day squad.
Attack in my opinion will be the order of the day. I expect both sides to throw the ball around and get as many lads close to and over the try line.
I think we’ll see an unsettled start from Leinster but at around the 10 minute mark I have a cheeky prediction that Dave Kearney will start the scoreboard ticking over. I can see the lead changing hands a couple of times but ultimately, I expect Leinster to start off their campaign with a win on the road and a 15th consecutive victory over Cardiff.
Cardiff 22 – Leinster 30
Result: Cardiff 32 – Leinster 33