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Glasgow Warriors vs Leinster Rugby
Firhill Stadium, Glasgow,
Sunday, 15th January 2012, 12:45

Television: Live Sky Sports 2, Highlights TG4 17.00

Last week Leinster completed their 'Christmas Schedule' with three wins from three after a somewhat bizarre win in Cardiff. Leinster got off to a blistering start with two tries in ten minutes but spent the rest of the game battling against the Italian referee and the Welsh officials. Marius Metrea lived up to the stereotype of the hometown Italian ref by penalising Leinster relentlessly while turning a blind eye to Cardiff's antics at the breakdown. The Welsh TMO Neil Ballard's decision to award the Cardiff try, despite having no evidence of the ball being touched down, should be enough to ensure he's never trusted with the job again. It's a poor reflection on the league that such a collection of clowns can be entrusted with such a high profile game.

However despite all they were up against Leinster did show great character to win, and with the Ospreys and Glasgow both losing they are now nine points clear at the top of the table. Aside from a complete collapse of form during the matches that will take place during the Six Nations, Leinster look pretty assured of a top two finish at least. Three of those games during that period are at home and with the young players who featured during the World Cup set to fill in again, hopefully they'll maintain the good form. It would be nice to see more of second row Mark Flanagan, who was handed a start at the last minute against Cardiff and acquitted himself with distinction.

With the league campaign in a very healthy state, it's time for Leinster to complete their pool fixtures in the Heineken Cup. Their two wins over Bath in the double-header before Christmas have left Leinster in firm control of the group and a win in Glasgow on Sunday will ensure qualification for the quarter-finals for the fourth year running. Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has been at pains to point out that this task will be anything but easy though. Indeed he only has to point to Leinster's recent record in Firhill, which is pretty abysmal. They haven't won there in the last five seasons.

Schmidt's first game in charge of Leinster was away to Glasgow. Having held a comfortable lead at half-time, Leinster looked odds on to win, but they threw the game away with a terrible second half performance. Schmidt has been looking to put that right ever since and on Sunday he'll get the chance for some payback. Of course Glasgow will be looking for some payback of their own after getting thumped 38-13 in the RDS back in November. That game was effectively over at half-time as Leinster had already secured the bonus-point with four tries in the first half. To Glasgow's credit their heads didn't go down and they showed great spirit to draw the second half, but their coach Sean Lineen admitted afterwards that they'd been taught a lesson, especially at the breakdown.

Their form since that match has actually been quite good, in fact they'd been on a six match unbeaten run until losing narrowly away to the Scarlets last week. They're still in with a chance of qualifying from the group as they have two wins and a draw so far. They need to win on Sunday though to keep their chances going, but having won six of their last seven Heineken Cup matches at Firhill, they will have plenty of belief in themselves.

They have some injury problems but Lineen has selected a team that shows ten changes from the under-strength side that started last week in Llanelli. There are five changes in the pack as Pat MacArthur, Ed Kalman, Richie Gray, Alistair Kellock and John Barclay all come in. Barclay is best known as an openside but is named at number eight. Kalman is trusted with the tighthead spot as both Mike Cusack and Moray Low are injured. Of course the return of their massive locks Gray and Kellock, who captains the side, is a massive boost. Leo Cullen and Devin Toner kept them relatively quiet in the RDS so they will be looking to show their true quality on Sunday.

There are another five changes in the backline. The first sees Rory Lamont return from injury to take his place at full back. His career at Toulon had stalled so he returned to Glasgow in December hoping to revive his Scotland prospects. The other changes see Duncan Weir and Chris Cusiter resume their halfback partnership and Colin Shaw and Stuart Hogg come in at left wing and outside centre respectively. With the on-form young open-side Chris Fusaro and Barclay both in the team, Lineen has effectively thrown down the gauntlet for the battle of the breakdown.

So far this season, Joe Schmidt has effectively had a 'home' and 'away' team in Europe. He's picked the more physical teams to grind out results away to Montpellier and Bath. However this time he's effectively stuck with the 'home' team with the selections of Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings and Eoin Reddan over Heinke van der Merwe, Damian Browne, Kevin McLaughlin and Isaac Boss respectively. He clearly feels that attack is Leinster's best policy against Glasgow and that this is the best line-up to achieve that.

Schmidt has named a team that shows just four changes from the side that started against Cardiff. The only change in the backline sees Isa Nacewa come in for Andrew Conway on the left wing. As Luke Fitzgerald is carrying a neck injury, David Kearney retains his spot on the right wing meaning he will finally make his Heineken Cup debut. In the pack Leo Cullen comes into the second row in place of Mark Flanagan and resumes as captain. The final change sees McLaughlin drop out, presumably due to injury. Sean O'Brien switches over to blindside and Shane Jennings takes over at open-side. It's a big game for Cian Healy as this is his first start in Europe this season. With Sean Cronin in excellent form last week, as well as O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, Leinster certainly won't be lacking for explosive ball carriers.

Leinster have clearly picked a team to play and with weather conditions predicted to be cold but clear, they will hopefully be able to do so. Glasgow will do everything in their power to stop them and chip away at Leinster with the reliable kicking of Duncan Weir. They will come out all guns blazing and it looks like they will have a record European Crowd cheering them on. Leinster will need to put in an ultra-professional performance to take the heat out of the Glasgow challenge but should they do that, they should be able to win and clinch the pool with a game to spare.

Team Lineups

Glasgow Warriors

Leinster Rugby
Teams Rory Lamont 15 Rob Kearney
Tommy Seymour 14 David Kearney
Stuart Hogg 13 Fergus McFadden
Graeme Morrison 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Colin Shaw 11 Isa Nacewa
Duncan Weir 10 Jonathan Sexton
Chris Cusiter 9 Eoin Reddan

Jon Welsh 1 Cian Healy
Pat MacArthur 2 Sean Cronin
Ed Kalman 3 Mike Ross
Richie Gray 4 Leo Cullen (C)
Alistair Kellock (C)
5 Devin Toner
Rob Harley 6 Sean O'Brien
Chris Fusaro 7 Shane Jennings
John Barclay 8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Dougie Hall 16 Aaron Dundon
Gordon Reid 17 Heinke van der Merwe
Ryan Grant 18 Nathan White
Tom Ryder 19 Damian Browne
Johnnie Beattie 20 Rhys Ruddock
Colin Gregor 21 Isaac Boss
Troy Nathan 22 Ian Madigan
Scott Wight 23 Eoin O'Malley

Not Considered
due to Injury
Federico Aramburu,
Mike Cusack,
Ruaridh Jackson,
Moray Low,
Henry Pyrgos,
DTH van der Merwe

Mat Berquist,
Shane Horgan,
Brian O'Driscoll,
Dominic Ryan,
Simon Shawe,
Eamonn Sheridan,
Steven Sykes,
Richardt Strauss,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Kevin McLaughlin

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Jon Mason (both WRU),
4th Official: Gus Tweedale (SRU),
5th Official: Tom McNicol (SRU),
TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-01-14