It is a massive day in Ireland here so to take a break from the seriousness of the 8th amendment vote, let’s have a look at the big sporting event of the weekend. NOT the champions league round ball, but a real game. A perfect mixture of combat and sport, Leinster welcome the other other old enemy the Scarlets back to Dublin in the final of the Guinness pro 14.
Scarlets are a serious team, and a team that would be the one we all salivate over if Leinster weren’t on the run they are on. Very similar to Phil Mickleson in golf, if Tiger wasn’t around he would be up there as one of the greatest ever, whereas he is the fella who sometimes challenged Tiger in his prime. The Scarlets are at a risk of the Mickleson affect. They can beat everyone in Europe on their day, but they haven’t done that against Leinster this year. They haven’t been close to the Champions cup winners (still great to type) in the important games. And this is where we start. Leinster has been able to remain consistent, strong and confident when the important games are on. They have become fantastic at managing the games, pinpointing what game is needing the 85%+ output and what games are good for changes and/or a lower output. That is balanced with a few bad games from them, that number of bad games has shrunk massively which is down to management and belief too
But back to this weekend. Leinster are on the verge of history, they have been building towards this from Leo’s first season in charge when he played a lot of youngsters in his first Heineken Cup campaign, this has been a long ball game and that game only pays dividends with the results set out at the start. The recent example is the Sexton drop goal in France. That is just a game if Ireland doesn’t go ahead and win the championship. They knew that and they executed as planned and won a slam. Leinster is in a similar position now. They know that the targets set out have been achieved so far, they know that the completion of that plan is fingertips away, but they also know the disappointment that waits if they don’t finish the job. The semi-final last year is the gut punch they don’t want.
So what will happen? Can Scarlets change a few things around before Saturday? Will Leinster rely on tried and trusted? Will everyone be fit? Firstly Scarlets will start with a bang; much like Munster did last weekend. There is nothing to be gained by being cautious here, they will try and start the same way they did in the Champions cup semi, maybe kick high and send Beirne in to draw a penalty out of Leinster. He was able to do that in the opening minutes last time.
Speaking of the last time, let’s have a quick look at that match; you’re only as good as your last match after all. Try count 5-1 Leinster, clean breaks 7-3 Leinster, defenders beaten 16-13 Scarlets, possession 59% Leinster for 66% territory, Leinster made 126 of 142 tackles, Scarlets made 183 of 196. Penalty count was 7 for Leinster 6 for Scarlets. So as you can see it was a game of massive skill and massive work. It looks like Scarlets want to run, to beat defenders and offload. It is the expected plan. Leinster stole 2 lineouts last time and had a perfect set piece, so they may look to the old strangulation rugby after the opening dog fight.
The big issue for me is the energy levels of Leinster. Adrenaline will get you so far but it has been a long season, it will be a hot day and the legs may get heavy. Injury wise it appears that Sexton and Nacewa are ready to go which is massive. Scarlets have had a couple of injuries and pitch burn to deal with. But the other Beirne is the one that will cause damage. He is fearless and is a 1 man wrecking crew. Fantastic to watch and if he get momentum he can drag his team over the line with him, Leinster stopped him in his tracks early in the semi. Can they do it again?
What a day!