Monday 19 March 2018

Revamped Blues look for pre-Toulon tonic

Ian Madigan gets a rare opportunity in the No 10 shirt
Ian Madigan gets a rare opportunity in the No 10 shirt
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Last chance to make a Guinness Pro12 move before Christmas and the two teams who have dominated the competition for the past three seasons are in need of a jolt.

Leinster, champions in 2013 and 2014, sit in fourth after eight games and have back-to-back games against Toulon and a pair of derbies to look forward to in the next couple of weeks, while holders Glasgow Warriors take on Scarlets home and away before their Scottish derbies against Edinburgh.

That schedule looks far more appetising and perhaps that's why Gregor Townsend has been able to pick close to his strongest team for today's game.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen, however, is without a couple of front-liners, notably Ireland stars Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip, Mike Ross, Devin Toner and Jack McGrath, who are rested as part of the IRFU player management. Isa Nacewa also sits this one out, while Sean O'Brien remains on the injury list with his inner-ear issue.

Just seven points separate league leaders Connacht and sixth-placed Glasgow and nobody will be panicking just yet, but these two teams contributed more players to the World Cup than any other club and they have both been sluggish since the big show.

The brunt of that sluggishness has been felt in the Champions Cup where the Scots, top seeds, lost their one match to Northampton and Leinster lost both of theirs to English opposition.

They've managed to keep the show in the road on the domestic front and Leinster showed signs of life against Ulster last weekend. Glasgow, meanwhile, beat Treviso 13-6 last Friday, and while the Italians are improving it is hardly a result that will have Leinster trembling.

Still, a prime-time kick-off with Sky in town should add something extra to this affair and the champions are hard to beat at home, where they have lost just once in 25 Pro12 games.

Conditions are set to be difficult as Storm Desmond makes its way east and the gale-force winds won't be welcomed by Ian Madigan, who gets a rare opportunity in the No 10 shirt in Sexton's absence.

High winds and driving rain are forecast, which won't help the entertainment value or the kickers, and Cullen will be hoping that the trio of internationals in his back-three will be able to cope with Duncan Weir's raking boot.

Connacht showed last weekend that bad weather shouldn't be an excuse for negative play, but Leinster would be forgiven for making a margin call away from home to the champions in difficult conditions.

Rob Kearney goes again after last week's planned return was abandoned, while Luke Fitzgerald and Ben Te'o are handed the opportunity to build their promising combination in the centre.

This looks like it might be settled up front, however, and Cullen replaces one all-Ireland international front-row with another as Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss and Marty Moore come in.

Mike McCarthy and Tom Denton look out-matched in the second-row, where Glasgow can boast Leone Nakarawa and Jonny Gray, while the back-row is a battle between youth and experience.

Man of the moment Josh van der Flier keeps the No 7 jersey for another week and another strong performance should ensure he starts in Toulon, while Rhys Ruddock will have an important role to play. Jordi Murphy is at No 8 after admitting his World Cup hangover in mid-week.

Opposite them are Josh Strauss, Simone Favaro and Adam Ashe, whose impressive form at No 8 is keeping naturalised South African Strauss on the blindside.

Townsend has handed a first start to 21-year-old hooker James Malcolm, and Leinster will look to target his throw and put pressure on Glasgow's lineout.

They will need to be far more clinical with ball in hand than they were last weekend when butchering a slew of try-scoring opportunities against Ulster.

Still, the encouraging thing was that they were getting themselves in the right positions and were able to dominate their neighbours up front.

If they can get on top today, then it will be half the battle and Madigan and Eoin Reddan will be charged with putting pressure on with the boot or opting to use Te'o to truck it up when needed.

Defensively, they will be wary of the Warriors' star man out wide Taqele Naiyaravoro. The Fijian, who has been capped by Australia, may not be suited to these conditions but can do damage if Leinster stand off him.

They'll need to address their narrow defence that allowed Ulster room on the edges, with Glasgow dangerous out wide.

With Toulon handing Ma'a Nonu his debut today, Leinster may have one eye on the European champions but if they do they'll be in trouble at Scotstoun. A losing bonus may represent a decent result.

Verdict: Glasgow

GLASGOW WARRIORS - S Hogg; T Naiyaravoro, A Dunbar, P Horne, T Seymour; D Weir, M Blair; R Grant, J Malcolm, S Puafisi; L Nakarawa, J Gray (capt); J Strauss, S Favaro, A Ashe. Reps: S Mamukashvili, J Yanuyanutawa, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, R Harley, A Price, F Russell, S Lamont.

LEINSTER - R Kearney; Z Kirchner, B Te'o, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Moore; T Denton, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Murphy. Reps: S Cronin, P Dooley, T Furlong, R Molony, D Ryan, I Boss, C Marsh, G Ringrose.

Ref - N Owens (Wales)

Glasgow Warriors v Leinster,

Live, Sky Sports, 3.0

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