The eve of the Guinness pro 14 final is upon us.
Leinster take on Ulster in the culmination of a mad season. A season that delivered for the most part. 1 finalist is expected; maybe the other one is not?
Coming out of lockdown and back into the season wasn’t easy for any team, and none of the Irish provinces has fired their full shots yet. Leinster have coasted, and been a bit lackadaisical if we are honest in the semi against Munster. They didn’t need to fire a shot in that game and walked it with ease. Meaning there isn’t a big scrap in that team as of yet.
Ulster on the other hand, started take 2 of this season in bad form, did not look good but against Edinburgh in the semifinal, they showed big scrap. Even when being double digits down twice, they never gave up. That along with the low penalty count kept their noses in the game and you could see Edinburgh did not have the stomach for the scrap.
Which brings us to the final on Saturday.
In reality and without wishing to cause offence, this should not be a contest based on the season so far. However, the only team to score a try bonus against Leinster have been Ulster. Ulster are on an upward trajectory after last week, but Leinster haven’t fired a shot yet. So, that leads us to the questions going in. Have Ulster dug too deep in the semi final to still have that reserve needed in the final? Have Leinster for the ability to flip the switch when it is needed or do teams have to work their way up to that level?
If we look at the semi final Ulster had against Edinburgh, you will see that they ran less metres, passed more times, forced 40 more tackles out of Edinburgh (201), had a strong set piece and conceded only 8 penalties (lowest of any Irish team since the return). They had 56% possession for 59% territory and still found themselves nearly 2 scores down twice in the game. This shows that they need to be more clinical with the ball, going 2 scores down against Leinster is game over. They know that and that brings pressure into the team.
Which bring us to the selection of Henderson. Back from injury and a massive leader for the team along with the likes of Herring, MccCloskey, Stockdale and Burns. These players really need to step up because the coach has loaded the bench with Madigan, Murphy, Moore and the likes who will be chomping at the bit to get on.
The biggest opening 20 of the season (or the last 5 seasons) is needed from this team.
Leinster on the other hand have shown confidence in the squad that has gotten them to the final. Rumors of Sexton and McGrath being rested hold true with Ross Byrne and Gibson-Park stepping in. Some see this as disrespect to Ulster, but that is nonsense. What it shows is trust in the squad that has been built by Cullen and Lancaster.
JVDF gets a start, which is great to see, it appears he was being held off a bit in terms of minutes to get him even hungrier than usual to chase silverware. The superman that is James Ryan returns to partner Toner in the second row. With Henderson back in white, this will be a huge battle. Without Hendo, Ulster are dead but this is now a proper battle.
Leinster need to perform need to keep this season going, forget about Saracens and build a big performance in the big game. No doubts they can do it
But you never take anything for granted against a team with nothing to lose.
I can’t wait