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Dublin: -1°C Sunday 11 April 2021

Every point counts as Leinster chase their 10th Pro14 final in 12 seasons

The defending Pro14 champions face Glasgow this evening at the RDS.

Josh van der Flier is back in a Leinster shirt
Josh van der Flier is back in a Leinster shirt
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THERE ARE TWO Leinster teams on the go this weekend. One played in Rome yesterday under a pseudonym. The other face Glasgow Warriors this evening.

It’s tempting to call this latter crew the Leinster B team, considering that 15 of their colleagues wore green yesterday. Except there is nothing second-rate about the ones left behind to mind the shop. 

Scott Fardy has played in a World Cup final; Devin Toner is a Grand Slam winner; Josh van der Flier started the first two games of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign; Dave Kearney was a starter when Ireland won the 2014 Six Nations; Sean Cronin has 72 caps on his CV; Harry Byrne may end up with several more.

Their quality will be needed because Glasgow arrive in Dublin with nine players back from Scotland camp, including two-thirds of the front row as Oli Kebble and Grant Stewart return to join Enrique Pieretto.

sean-cronin Cronin's experience will be vital tonight. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

No one will be happier to see them there than Dan McFarland, the Ulster coach. A point adrift of Leinster with a game more played, McFarland knows Ulster could do with a favour from somewhere, otherwise it’ll be Leinster who’ll top Conference A and reach this season’s Pro14 final.

With all this in mind, McFarland must have eyed the midweek Covid saga in the French camp with a fair degree of interest, knowing that if the France-Scotland match got postponed, then the Scottish players would be released back to their clubs and that, in turn, would leave Glasgow better equipped to take on seemingly unbeatable Leinster.

Should the Scots sneak a result at the RDS tonight (kick-off 5.30pm, live eir Sport) then Ulster will benefit most and next Saturday’s clash, when Ulster host Leinster at the Kingspan, will turn into a de facto Pro14 semi-final.

As it is, Ulster are powerless to stop Leinster making it to a tenth Pro14 final in 12 seasons. All Leo Cullen’s side need to do to make it there is to rattle off bonus point victories over Glasgow this evening, Zebre in two weeks time and then Ospreys in the final game of the season.

leo-cullen-speaks-to-the-media-before-the-game Cullen is hoping Leinster can maintain their form. Source: Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

Do all that and the Ulster result will be irrelevant. So every point counts – and you get the impression that Glasgow’s head coach, Danny Wilson, knows as much.

“It’s unfortunate the Scotland game has been postponed,” Wilson said, “but we’re pleased to welcome some of our Scotland boys back and to be able to give them game time. We’ve named an exciting back line blending our experienced internationals with a young, promising back three.

“Leinster are the in-form side in the competition. We need to match their speed in defence and attack and take our chances in their 22 if we want to walk away with a win.”

They need to do plenty more than that. Finding a way to curb Luke McGrath’s influence has to be uppermost in Wilson’s thoughts; stopping the hugely underrated Rory O’Loughlin is another consideration.

And then there is Byrne. Sooner or later he is going to get an Ireland call but if he wants to skip the queue then he needs to put in big displays in matches like these, when the pressure is on and he has to be a leader, not just a young guy finding his way. 

The thing Leinster need to find this evening is a victory. If a bonus point is attached, it’ll pretty much guarantee them a place in next month’s final. Bear in mind that in 12 Pro14 games this season, Leinster have taken bonus points from 11 of them. Expect that trend to continue this evening.

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Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien, Cian Kelleher, Rory O’Loughlin, Ciarán Frawley, Dave Kearney, Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath (CAPT); Peter Dooley, Seán Cronin, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Josh Murphy, Josh van der Flier, Scott Penny.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Marcus Hanan, Tom Clarkson, Jack Dunne, Alex Soroka, Rowan Osborne, David Hawkshaw, Jamie Osborne.

Glasgow Warriors: Ollie Smith, Rufus McLean, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Cole Forbes, Adam Hastings, Jamie Dobie; Oli Kebble, Grant Stewart, Enrique Pieretto, Richie Gray, Leone Nakarawa, Rob Harley, Thomas Gordon, Ryan Wilson (CAPT)

ReplacementsJohnny Matthews, Aki Seiuli, D’arcy Rae, Gregor Brown, TJ Ioane, Sean Kennedy, Ross Thompson, Robbie Fergusson.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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