By Tadhg Peavoy
Quite rightly Leinster and Glasgow contest the Pro12 final at the RDS today.
Over the course of the season they were without question the two best sides. If either had been upset in the tournament’s semi-final play-offs it would have deprived the competition of the final it merited.
Although, the chance to see Brian O’Driscoll do battle with Munster one last time, in his final outing for Leinster, was a tantalizing prospect that never quite materialised.
Leinster topped the table in the regular season and they were largely convincing for the majority of the campaign. However, in the Heineken Cup the wheels came off the wagon against Toulon in their quarter-final clash on French soil.
Matt O’Connor’s team lacked many things that day; line speed, creativity, quick decision-making and efficiency with the ball.
And Toulon took advantage of all of that to dominate the breakdown and flood the tackle 1-3 positions on the fringes of the rucks with bodies that created space for the outside men to do damage.
This is the template on how to beat Leinster and it is likely the one that Glasgow will use. Gregor Townsend’s team play a very similar style to the European champions, using physical force and aggression from their pack as the method to gain ground and velocity in attack before spinning to the danger men who are to be found in space following the exertions of their pack.
The key question is whether Glasgow have the capability to do the same kind of damage that Toulon did to Leinster? It’s unlikely that the Scottish side will be able to exert the same level of control and physical dominance, they don’t have the personnel to achieve that one would imagine. However, if they get a good platform early on and get the upper hand at the set piece, Leinster will struggle to find their rhythm.
Both XVs have respective strengths. Leinster should have an advantage in the front row where internationals Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross line out. Gordon Reid and Jon Welsh as the pillars for Glasgow will have their work cut out for them.
However, in the second row the superb pairing of Jonny Gray and Ali Kellock will trouble Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy.
The back rows appear evenly matched with Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip clashing with Robert Harley, Chris Fusaro and Josh Strauss. This will be a fascinating battle area and there is little to pick from the two units. Although the experience and industry of Heaslip will be invaluable, especially when it comes to negating Harley’s effectiveness in stealing ball at the breakdown.
All in all, the packs are hard to separate in terms of quality on the whole.
In the backline, instinct would say that Leinster have the edge. Eoin Reddan and Chris Cusiter play similar games at scrum-half, with the speed and accuracy of their passing games the key to their success. At ten Jimmy Gopperth is the steady hand on the tiller for Leinster, while Finn Russell offers more creativity for Glasgow. Expect to see Ian Madigan introduced in the second period to supply some magic to unlock the Glasgow defence. He could play yet another starring role as a substitute.
The tried and trusted centre pairing of Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll play their last ever game in professional rugby together today. And Peter Horne and Alex Dunbar are faced with the task of breaking their defensive solidity while also using their power to break the line. They may do it at points in the game, but given that this is O’Driscoll’s last waltz it’s hard to imagine he will not do everything in his power to turn on the skills he is famous for one last time, particularly his peerless defensive work.
And in the back three, Leinster again should have the slight edge. Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland and Peter Murchie have offered much going forward this season, but Zane Kirchner, Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney have been some of the best back three players in the competition. Dave Kearney will be missed, but they still have the ideas and gas to cause Glasgow serious damage if the men inside them give them the possession and space to do so.
There’s unlikely to be more than two scores between the sides in this one, and as alluded to earlier, the impact Madigan has as a replacement could prove crucial.
However, if Leinster can marry the solidity they have shown of late in the pack, with a creativity that has been somewhat lacking, you would have to imagine they can grind Glasgow down and deprive them of the possession they need to do damage.
Verdict: Leinster by eight