So, the baby has arrived and after rushing to get my write up on the Cardiff game uploaded while in the hospital with my wife last weekend, I now have a little more time (emphasis on the little) to get this week’s preview out!
Today we will see the return of a lot of senior Leinster players and internationals to the match day squad. Scarlets have also introduced some big guns back into there side so a hard fought battle is undoubtedly in store! With Europe only just over a month away, it’s important for both sides to start re-integrating their front line players.
As mentioned last season, there is a new blue/red rivalry in Europe and it comes in form of these two teams. There is no love lost between Leinster and Scarlets. The welsh side broke Leinster hearts in the RDS during the 2016/17 Pro12 semi final. Leinster went on to get their revenge when they knocked Scarlets out of the Champions Cup a year later in the semi final, and then went on to take their title off them in the Pro14 final a month later. Needless to say, there’s very little needed to say to highlight the importance of this clash. If Leinster win this one, it’s put some daylight on the table between these two sides which is hugely important given that they are probably our biggest threats in our confernence (no offence Ulster)!
On one hand, we have the Scarlets who will want to get some revenge on Leinster who annihilated them in the key stages of their league and European campaigns last season. On the other hand, Leinster will be looking to follow up last week’s last gasp victory over Cardiff with another scalp in Wales, and put some daylight on the table between them and their conference rivals. On their day, there’s not a huge amount between these two sides, they are capable of tearing up defences at will shocking their oppositions with high octane attack moves. Leinster however probably have the more complete package in terms of attack and defence, however Scarlets have a fantastic record at home and always appear more composed in front of their home crowd.
Here is the team selection for today’s game:
15. Jordan Larmour (22)
14. Fergus McFadden (170)
13. Rory O’Loughlin (43)
12. Robbie Henshaw (24)
11. James Lowe (13)
10. Ross Byrne (50)
9. Jamison Gibson-Park (52)
1. Cian Healy (191)
2. Seán Cronin (153)
3. Tadhg Furlong (84)
4. Devin Toner (218)
5. Ian Nagle (18)
6. Josh Murphy (10)
7. Rhys Ruddock (143)
8. Jack Conan (74)
16. James Tracy (67)
17. Peter Dooley (48)
18. Andrew Porter (31)
19. Mick Kearney (36)
20. Max Deegan (22)
21. Luke McGrath (96)
22. Noel Reid (101)
23. Joe Tomane (1)
14 internationals in the 23, not too shabby! Look at that back three of Larmour, McFadden and Lowe, they are capable of causing havoc when given half a chance, all three of which will be well used to doing specifically to Scarlets in recent times!
Having Henshaw and O’Loughlin in the centre will add to the threat as they too are incredible ball carriers but also have a great skill in delivering very accurate passes to their full backs and wingers. The back line selection will be a massive weapon for Leinster in attack, and a massive headache for Scarlets!
Ross Byrne retains the 10 jersey and is partnered by Gibson-Park at scrum half. It’s great to see Gibson-Park getting a start this week after putting out a perfect performance from the bench last week against Cardiff, where he marshalled the team around the field brilliantly and scored a try. A lot of nay-sayers will be silenced after that performance, that’s for sure.
The front row of Healy, Cronin and Furlong screams POWER, it will be interesting to see how our scrum fairs against the Scarlets’ with these three lads at the helm. Leinster didn’t get one put-in last weekend so we have yet to see how effective our own scrum can be this season. From 4 to 8, we have great strength in Toner, Conan, and captain Ruddock. They are joined by Josh Murphy and Ian Nagle.
The bench also packs quite a punch and will offer an additional strength and energy when called upon.
Scarlets have also selected a very strong side and will be looking to win their first home game of the season against their closest rivals in Conference B. They will also be reeling after the way in which they lost out to Ulster last weekend (last minute penalty from John Cooney). They surely won’t be pleased that their first home game at home is against the Pro14 champions but it will give them huge motivation to put out a solid performance for their home crowd and get one up on the boys in blue.
Where the game will be won
The Scarlets will surely be very wary of this Leinster team selection of which the Scarlets team will be very familiar with and on the losing side of. These two teams have faced off 4 times since February this year, with Leinster winning three and one finishing in a draw. I would expect that they will deploy a game plan that will slow Leinster’s ball and allow themselves to keep a solid defensive line. Scarlets are very used to the Leinster attack and will want to keep their scores to a minimum. As a result, I think they will keep the ball tight and limit Leinster’s possession. Scarlets are renowned for scoring on the fringes so will most likely try to keep the game in the centre of the field before attempting to catch Leinster sleeping out on the wings. Such was the game plan they deployed in the semi final of the Pro12 in May 2017 which was the last time they beat Leinster. Leinster have since become wise to this style of play from the Scarlets so will surely have reviewed the footage of that game in order to counteract it.
The team selection from Cullen screams intent and they’re clearly looking to make it two from two in Wales. I think they will go for an attacking game plan and will focus on unleashing their backs whenever possible. This will require a big defensive effort from Scarlets and I feel they will be well prepared for it following what happened in the Pro14 final. Like last week, I think tries will be the order of the day, no need for last gasp penalties or drop goals this weekend.
My cheeky prediction is that Robbie Henshaw will provide a huge boost to our attack and will allow for James Lowe to score the first try of the match.
Although Scarlets are at home and we haven’t come away with a victory in Parc y Scarlets since 2013, I feel that the firepower that Leinster has will prove to be too much for Scarlets in the second half. It will be a hard fought battle from start to finish but I can only see Leinster improving throughout the second half and potentially securing a bonus point victory.
Scarlets 20 – Leinster 30
Final result: Scarlets 23 – Leinster 21