Sunday 22 October 2017

Hungry crowd at RDS can lift Leinster to glory

Sean O'Brien in action during training ahead of the Pro12 final
Sean O'Brien in action during training ahead of the Pro12 final

Victor Costello

As much as Glasgow have improved over the last couple of seasons, it is within Leinster's grasp to win this weekend and finish the season on a high.

Glasgow have only won once in 19 games against Leinster. Finals, however, are not about statistics – they are about knowing if your team has a weakness and making sure that it's not exposed.

Glasgow have flourished under Gregor Townsend. He is by no means a dominant character, but his vision and tactical ability are of the highest standard from years of experience at the top level.

When Glasgow beat Munster in the semi-final they celebrated like they had won the championship already.

Any team that beats Munster in the manner that they did deserves credit. They hung in there with belief like the Munster teams of old – grasping marginal victories by pure dogged belief and resilience.

So how do Leinster beat Glasgow? Home advantage is a huge bonus. With a hungry, passionate crowd and a Leinster team that have dominated this competition since the inaugural Celtic League in 2001, it promises to be a fantastic occasion.

GIFTED

In hindsight, Leinster were gifted their win over Ulster, whereas Glasgow ground it out. Most of the time, the team that has come through the biggest battles ends up winning the final (most of Leinster's European Cup victories happened this way). In this case Glasgow are going to be very dangerous.

Leinster will have to start with their selection – Ian Madigan of course bringing the biggest debate. The main argument is that he deserves to start since he is the player that got Leinster in this position.

The counter-argument – is he better coming off the bench as an impact sub like he did in the semi? If he starts who does he replace?

In my opinion he needs to start at out-half and make his impact from the off.

Then there's Mike McCarthy versus Leo Cullen. Two workhorses and two leaders.

In contrast to Madigan, Leo is not an impact sub. His effect on the game manifests itself from the kick-off. He has a great rugby brain and needs to be in the centre of the action from the start.

McCarthy has proven his ability to change a game off the bench for club and country, and can do so in any position in the back five of the scrum.

Unfortunately in the back-row, five into three doesn't go. The Scots are renowned for their rucking and their quest for fast ball.

With that in mind, and also due to form, one would go with Shane Jennings.

However, if Leinster want to forgo the ball on the ground and make the impact with ball in hand, one would have to look at Sean O'Brien, Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip.

Once these selection conundrums are sorted out Leinster will have to look at their game plan. Leinster have a kicking game and a running game.

Glasgow rely on the typical Scottish tactics – win the ball on the ground and move it wide, with the inside offload to start the sequence again. They do this very effectively.

With the potent Sean Lamont in the backline, they are a team that has galvanised over the past year and will expect nothing more than the best from Leinster and their reputation, but can Leinster deliver?

There is no doubting that there are cracks beginning to appear in this Leinster squad. Individual performances are not what they used to be and the consistency hasn't been there like previous seasons.

However, in personnel, they have to be up with the best in the world.

Some might take the view that last weekend's Toulon team shows the future of European rugby, but the game still values the traditional team loyalty to club and province.

The Irish provincial structures from academy and 'A' levels are ensuring that notion remains.

Fear of failure is often used to drive ambition and hunger. In the RDS tomorrow, the home side have the experience to know that if they let this one slip it will be a long summer and the opportunity to correct it will be three months away.

They also know that if the performance against Ulster is repeated, it's unlikely that the bench will have the same opportunity to turn it around.

These are the thought processes that, combined with the skills and experience at this level of the competition, will bring a Leinster victory and an opportunity to remove those cracks and doubts that linger.

Another final farewell for Brian O'Driscoll and Leo – except this is for real.

Most of the 18,000 in the RDS and those at home will be grasping every visual opportunity with a view to reminiscing in what will be the folklore of the future.

SUCCESS

The road that for both players started almost 30 years ago has brought them huge success and satisfaction and an ability to work hard for every shred of success.

Behind Brian he had his parents Frank and Ger, his sisters and his wife sharing every high and low, every try and victory but also every knock and injury. The same with Leo's support network for years – his parents Frank and Paula and his brother and sister.

Every road travelled and game visited in every corner of the world created a memory never to be forgotten either by the players or for those who were lucky enough to witness it.

Like every other retiree, after this weekend those memories are to be enjoyed without the worry and pressure of results and injuries that every family goes through during 80 minutes in stadia that are filled with adoring supporters who simply sit back and enjoy.

Now it's Brian and Leo's turn.

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