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Leinster Rugby vs Glasgow Warriors
RaboDirect Pro12 Semi-Final
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Saturday, 12th May 2012, 19:35

Television: Live TG4

After the heroics of Bordeaux, Joe Schmidt had the luxury of being able to change his entire starting fifteen for the trip to Newport to play the Dragons last week. The fixture was pretty much meaningless as Leinster would finish top of the league regardless. However Schmidt would still have been delighted that his young team were able to win at a tough venue like Rodney Parade. It meant Leinster finished off their regular season with their best ever record of 18 wins, 1 draw and just 3 defeats.

It's worth pointing out though that the draw and one of the defeats came against this week's opponents Glasgow. This will be Leinster's fifth match against the Glaswegians this season and though they did the double over them in the Heineken Cup pool matches, they've yet to beat them in the Pro 12. It was Glasgow who broke Leinster's long unbeaten run at the RDS when they beat them there back in September. Leinster made up for it when they hammered them 38-13 in the Heineken Cup match at the same venue but that early season defeat still rankles with them.

Though Edinburgh got a lot of attention for their run to the Heineken Cup semi-finals, there's no doubt that Glasgow have been the better team this year. They have the best defensive record in the league, only conceding 23 tries and 321 overall points. It's fair to say their offence hasn't been quite as good though and they scored the least amount of tries (34) of any side in the top seven. They've specialised in grinding out tight wins, largely through the excellent kicking of Duncan Weir, who's provided 195 of Glasgow's points this season.

His performances saw him named in the Pro 12 team of the tournament alongside team-mates Jon Welsh and Tom Ryder. Then again, the fact that eleventh-placed Edinburgh had the same amount of players selected as first-placed Leinster perhaps calls the credibility of that team into question.

Glasgow certainly won't lack for motivation. Their coach Sean Lineen is moving on at the end of the season along with their best player in Richie Gray so they'll be treating the game like a cup final. Lineen has made five changes from the team that comfortably beat Connacht last week. The only change in the backline sees Scottish International Chris Cusiter return at scrum-half in place of Henry Pyrgos. Weir has been given the nod at out-half ahead of the more experienced Ruaridh Jackson to partner Cusiter.

Canadian international DTH van der Merwe is recently back after missing most of the season through injury and he gives them a cutting edge on the left wing. On the right wing, Argentinean winger Federico Aramburu is retiring at the end of the season so he'll be looking to go out on a high. Full back Stuart Hogg has been a sensation this season and he was named as the Pro 12 young player of the year.

The other four changes to the team all come in the front five as Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur and Mike Cusack form an all-new front row and captain Ali Kellock is back in the second row alongside Gray. They've picked the backrow combination of Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro and John Barclay that gave Leinster some problems at the breakdown in the Heineken Cup match at Firhill. All in all, it's a very solid unit and they're hard-working and well-organised in implementing their gameplan.

For Leinster they're now into the knock-out part of the season. Three more wins and they'll become the first Irish side to do a league and European double. But they'll remember from last season how hard a task it is to complete, though at least this time they'll be at home for the final should they make it. Of course they'll have one eye on the Heineken Cup final in Twickenham next week, but they'll need to be up for this match too to avoid a banana skin.

Last season Schmidt picked a near full strength team for the semi-final against Ulster and then had to endure a nervous wait after several players picked up injuries. So this season it's more of a mixed bag and to illustrate his caution Rob Kearney and Brian O'Driscoll are held back after picking up minor niggles in training. So Isa Nacewa is at full back with Fergus McFadden and David Kearney, the leading contenders to replace the unfortunate Luke Fitzgerald for the final, given a shot to prove themselves on each wing. Eoin O'Malley is another player who'll want to push his claims for a place in the final squad and he's back from injury to partner Gordon D'Arcy in the centre. Jonathan Sexton and Eoin Reddan are the half-backs, and Reddan especially will be doing everything in his power to convince Schmidt he should start next week.

The pack has a more settled look about it with the regular first choice front row of Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross starting. Leo Cullen in on the bench so Devin Toner gets another chance to partner Brad Thorn in the second row. Jamie Heaslip captains the team in Cullen's absence and he's partnered by Sean O'Brien and Shane Jennings in the back row and Jennings in particular will be keen to convince Schmidt to keep the same combination for next week.

Glasgow will go out and give it everything and as they're so familiar with Leinster they certainly won't give them anything easy. They have nothing to lose and they'll put in a properly physical effort. Schmidt will be doing his best to keep his player's focus on just this game. Like last year's semi-final, it will be tough and probably scrappy enough but in the end Leinster should prevail, hopefully with no injuries.


Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Glasgow Warriors
Teams Isa Nacewa
15 Stuart Hogg
Fergus McFadden
14 Federico Aramburu
Eoin O'Malley
13 Alex Dunbar
Gordon D'Arcyy
12 Graeme Morrison
David Kearney
11 DTH van der Merwe
Jonathan Sexton
10 Duncan Weir
Eoin Reddan
9 Chris Cusiter

Cian Healy
1 Ryan Grant
Richardt Strauss
2 Pat MacArthur
Mike Ross
3 Mike Cusack
Brad Thorn
4 Richie Gray
Devin Toner 5 Al Kellock (C)
Sean O'Brien
6 Rob Harley
Shane Jennings
7 Chris Fusaro
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 John Barclay

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Dougie Hall
Heinke van der Merwe
17 Jon Welsh
Nathan White
18 Moray Low
Leo Cullen 19 Tom Ryder
Kevin McLaughlin 20 Henry Pyrgos
Isaac Boss 21 Johnnie Beattie
Ian Madigan 22 Ruaridh Jackson
Andrew Conway
23 Peter Murchie

Not Considered
due to Injury
Eamonn Sheridan,
Ben Marshall,
John Cooney,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Rob Kearney,
Brian O'Driscoll

Rob Dewey,
Rory Lamont,
Fergus Thomson,
Ryan Wilson
Officials Referee: George Clancy (IRFU),
Assistant Referees: John Lacey (IRFU), Leo Colgan (IRFU),
4th Official: Mark Patton (IRFU),
5th Official: Richard Kerr (IRFU),
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-05-11