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Leinster Rugby vs Scarlets
Pro-14 Final
Aviva Stadium, Dublin,
Saturday, 26th May 2018, 18:00

TV: Live on Sky Sports/ TG4

Leinster can make history in their final match of the season.

They can become the first team outside of France and England to win a European Cup/League double. It was a nervy finish last week against Munster and in truth they rode their luck at times. Both teams got good and bad decisions off a referee who was utterly out of his depth and who mystifyingly has been awarded this week's final too. But the real luck was that their dodgy defending out wide wasn't exposed more mainly due to Munster's dreadful passing. Passes were flung high, forward and wide and poor defensive reads were glossed over but the Scarlets backline would have been licking their lips.

They showed how it should be done the night before when they effectively beat Glasgow in Scotstoun with a three-try scoring burst that was very reminiscent of the Pro12 semi-final in the RDS last season. They are the best team in the league at scoring tries off turnover ball and Leinster need to be hugely vigilant. Of course Leinster have already figured out how to beat Scarlets this season: just don't let them have the ball. In the Champions Cup semi-final they beat them 38-16 and it was said by some that the Scarlets failed to turn up. They turned up alright but Leinster's burly bouncers in the pack just didn't let them in the door. In fairness Wayne Pivac is a quality coach and since that final whistle he and his staff will have been dreaming up ways to negate Leinster's advantage up front and create a game more to the Scarlets's style of play. However Leinster know exactly what they need to do, they have the template and it's a question of producing it again.

Because of the performances over the last two weeks, it's been suggested that Leinster are limping home this season just doing enough to win. It kind of glosses over the fact that they were two extremely tough games against two hugely physical teams. And yet Leinster still found something in the tank at the end of both games when it counted. And two of the players still bringing it to the end are the two additions to the pack this season. In Scott Fardy Leinster knew they were getting a player who knew how to win but in James Ryan they have found a player who seemingly doesn't know how to lose. Ryan was simply immense last week making more yards from carries than any other forward on the pitch as well as contributing a frankly ridiculous 23 tackles. Far from grinding it out until the end of the season, this kid just gets better each week.

Ryan will be joined on the Ireland summer tour by Tadhg Beirne but they'll be going toe to toe again this Saturday. Beirne will be playing his final game for Scarlets after what's been an incredible two years which has transformed his career from frankly a virtual unknown to a player who was in the mix for European player of the year. The semi-final in the Aviva was the first time Leinster managed to negate his influence at the breakdown with a mixture of slyness and brutality and they'll be looking to do the same again. Beirne won't be aided in his breakdown battle this week by the injured John Barclay who has played his last game for the Scarlets ahead of his move to Edinburgh in the summer. In an interesting move Barclay is replaced by Beirne at number eight which means Lewis Rawlins comes into the second row to take Beirne's place. In the backs Leigh Halfpenny returns to take his place at full back which means Johnny Mcnicholl switches to the wing

For Leinster the big news is that they found enough gaffer tape to stick Isa Nacewa together for his final game for Leinster. So the only changes to the backline are the return of Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney. In the pack Dan Leavy comes back in at open-side but interestingly Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock keep their places in the backrow, which means Scott Fardy and Jordi Murphy are on the bench. You can understand them retaining Conan at eight as he played well last week and he'll be here next season while Murphy won't be, but keeping Fardy in reserve looks to be a bit of a gamble, especially considering his role in stopping Beirne at the breakdown in the semi-final.

You get the feeling it won't be as easy as the semi-final but Leinster have made a habit of winning the games that really matter this season and hopefully they will have enough in the tank to seal the deal tomorrow evening.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Scarlets
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Leigh Halfpenny
Jordan Larmour 14 Johnny Mcnicholl
Garry Ringrose 13 Scott Williams
Isa Nacewa (C) 12 Hadleigh Parkes
James Lowe 11 Steff Evans
Johnny Sexton 10 Rhys Patchell
Luke McGrath 9 Gareth Davies

Cian Healy 1 Rob Evans
Sean Cronin 2 Ken Owens (C)
Tadhg Furlong 3 Samson Lee
Devin Toner 4 Lewis Rawlins
James Ryan 5 Steve Cummins
Rhys Ruddock 6 Aaron Shingler
Dan Leavy 7 James Davies
Jack Conan
8 Tadhg Beirne

Replacements James Tracy 16 Ryan Elias
Jack McGrath 17 Wyn Jones
Andrew Porter 18 Werner Kruger
Scott Fardy 19 David Bulbring
Jordi Murphy 20
Will Boyde
Nick McCarthy 21 Jonathan Evans
Joey Carbery 22 Dan Jones
Rory O'Loughlin 23 Tom Prydie

Not Considered
due to Injury
Josh van der Flier,
Cathal Marsh,
Fergus McFadden,
Dave Kearney,
Sean O'Brien,
Richardt Strauss,
Robbie Henshaw

John Barclay,
Jonathan Davies,
Jake Ball,
Tom Price,
Paul Asquith
Officials Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU)
Assistant referees: Marius Mitrea (FIR), Mike Adamson (SRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2018-05-25

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