Thursday 8 December 2016

Leinster have the skill and experience to call a halt to Connacht's fairytale run

Victor Costello

Published 27/05/2016 | 02:30

Jordi Murphy was back to his best in the Pro12 semi-final win over Ulster. Photo:
RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE
Jordi Murphy was back to his best in the Pro12 semi-final win over Ulster. Photo: RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

The Pro12's detractors will have had nothing to complain about when watching both semi-finals last weekend. Both games were enthralling to watch and the standard of rugby was higher than what has been expected in this competition and what is the norm for play-off cup rugby.

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Tomorrow's final should not let us down and as a derby game, the venue is the only glitch in what will be a cracking contest, with Irish rugby to the forefront once again in Europe.

Connacht have spoken of their desire to win this league from a while back and when listening to the players talk pre- or post-match, you could be forgiven for thinking they were just trying to convince themselves of what could happen this season.

Desire, hunger, passion and need pay a huge part in contact sport and Connacht have these in spades. Their desire to win will be beyond what Leinster's will be due to their debut at the top table. It will be up to Pat Lam to manage and control this desire and up to Leo Cullen to contain it.

Last week's game against Ulster was a reflection on the players deciding that enough is enough and, man for man, they outplayed their northern counterparts.

After 20 minutes, Ulster received a reminder of the strength of the Leinster squad, particularly at home. This victory was built on anger from the previous game up in the Kingspan Stadium and this emotion was enough to ignite the Leinster team into action.

It was mentioned that the anger was brewing all week in the post-match interviews and this was obvious due to the performances. Jordi Murphy kicked back into form and there were notable performances from Mick Kearney, Eoin Reddan, Isa Nacewa and Jamie Heaslip.

The build-up this week for Leinster will be different to any throughout the season. Mentally the players need to remind themselves of their experience and history in this competition.

Murrayfield is not ideal for either team and unless it is full, it can be a sparse environment giving no atmosphere, unlike the Sportsground or the RDS.

It is a wide pitch, which will suit Connacht's style of play but will also suit key Leinster players - that's if the ball gets past the widely anticipated match-up of Bundee Aki and Ben Te'o of course.

Although Leinster have been here before many times, they will have to be aware of the professionalism that has become the hallmark of this Connacht side.

Connacht's away performances have been adequate enough to see them to the final and they will bring more than just emotion and desire.

Their set-pieces are strong and the lineout is almost unstoppable with Ultan Dillane, their main go-to man.

Leinster will not have the same dominance they had in the scrum against Ulster but they should more than hold their own.

Pat Lam and Connacht will try and starve Leinster of possession and it will be up to Leo Cullen's men to set a pace and intensity in the game that will send a message to the Westerners that cup or league finals are won with skills and experience opposed to passion and desire

Negative Cullen reminded everyone in the pre-match interview last weekend that Leinster were not in the semi-finals last season, a gentle dig at the negative responses to performances this season.

Irish neutral fans will be cheering for Connacht, the future of Irish rugby, and they would be right to do so. Connacht all week have been playing on the fact that Leinster have all the internationals and that they are the underdogs.

Pat Lam should understand that being underdogs when you're an Irish province makes you the favourites - but he is right, Leinster do have the internationals.

More importantly, they also have future internationals. The Westerners' time will come but not this weekend.

Irish Independent

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