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Leinster Rugby vs Glasgow Warriors,
RaboDirect Pro12 Semi-Final,
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Saturday, 11 May 2013, 19:35,

Television: Live - TG4, BBC Alba

Well now we know that, whatever happens, Leinster won't need to leave the RDS for the rest of the season. It makes a change from expensive end of season trips I guess. Three wins from the next three games will bring two trophies and make up at least partially for the early exit from the Heineken Cup. However that's easier said than done, especially in the Pro12 play-offs. Even though Leinster will be desperate to finally lay their Grand Final bogey to rest after three consecutive defeats, Ulster, Scarlets and Glasgow will have their own designs on the trophy.

Table-toppers Ulster should be too good for Scarlets in their semi-final tonight so the final should be at the RDS regardless of tomorrow's result, as Ulster have designated it as their "home" venue with Ravenhill still too small. Before Leinster can even think of that though, they must face a Glasgow team who will arrive with plenty of confidence

Since Christmas, only Leinster have a better winning record than Glasgow. They have won 10 of their last 12, with their only defeats coming against Leinster and Scarlets away. That shock 29-6 hammering in Parc y Scarlets was the one game Glasgow didn't perform in at all. This year, they have put six tries on Munster, five tries on Ospreys and four tries on Ulster. Yet the Scarlets somehow completed a league double on them and that defeat effectively cost them a home semi-final.

Their coach Gregor Townsend took over at the start of the season from the popular Sean Lineen. He didn't have the greatest of starts but he was recently voted the Pro12 coach of the season for the way he's turned it around. Glasgow were always a tough side, but not necessarily the most attractive team to watch. Townsend now has them playing rugby that he would have been proud to play himself when he was a superb attacking out-half for Scotland and the Lions. They're the top try-scorers in the league with 66 compared to Leinster's 63. They're not bad defensively either as they've only conceded only 30 tries, second best to Ospreys, compared with Leinster's frankly alarming total of 46, which was the worst of all the teams in the top eight!

All that being said, Leinster are unbeaten in their last six clashes with the Warriors in all competitions and Glasgow have won only once in their nine previous visits to the RDS. They lost 19-15 in the semi-final last season, although that score makes it sound closer than it actually was with Glasgow scoring two late consolation tries. It was their third match in the RDS that season, and though they were soundly beaten in the European group match, they won with an under-strength team during the World Cup and the memory of that win will stand to them.

Last week Glasgow took the chance to rest several key men as Ryan Grant, Josh Strauss, Niko Matawalu, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg were all left on the bench and skipper Ali Kellock was given the weekend off as his wife had just given birth. That they still won comfortably on an emotional night in Galway as Eric Elwood took charge of his last game is a testament to the depth of their squad. This week all six return to the starting line-up in what's a formidable-looking side.

Niko Matawalu is their key man, the one who really makes them tick. Though possibly the worst-passing scrum-half in the league, his ability to break around the fringes is lethal and he's scored 7 tries in the 10 league appearances since Christmas. He certainly created several problems for Leinster when they played in March and they were quite relieved to see him depart early, in what Townsend may regard as one of his worst calls of the season.

There is a bit of a surprise in Matawalu's choice of partner. With Duncan Weir injured, Scotland international Ruaridh Jackson would have been expected to get the nod but Peter Horne, who's normally a centre, is picked at ten instead. Horne's place-kicking can be a bit flaky, so Stuart Hogg could be given the job instead but it's a big call which illustrates how Jackson isn't trusted on the big occasions. Horne's spot at inside centre goes to Alex Dunbar who partners Sean Lamont, while Maitland, Hogg and DTH van der Merwe make up a very dangerous back three.

In the pack Strauss returns at number six which means the unlucky Rob Harley drops to the bench. Scotland internationals Ryan Wilson and John Barclay complete a very strong back row. The abrasive Kellock returns to captain the side from the second row alongside Tim Swinson. In the front row Grant returns in place of Moray Low with hooker Pat MacArthur and tighthead Jon Welsh retaining their spots. It's a very strong line-up with weapons spread across the park, but the key thing for them is how their half-backs combine.

For Leinster, they're able to name a very strong line-up with most of the big names back. Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy are back in the centre, which means Fergus McFadden moves to the wing and Andrew Conway and Ian Madigan drop to the bench. After Luke McGrath's impressive first start at scrum-half last week, Isaac Boss is back to take the reins and he partners Jonathan Sexton, who is in imperious form at the moment. Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa complete a very strong backline.

In the pack Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross and Devin Toner all return to the front five with skipper Leo Cullen the only forward to retain his jersey from last week. Kevin McLaughlin and Jamie Heaslip both return to the back row and as he is struggling with a calf strain, Sean O'Brien is bracketed with Shane Jennings at openside, with Rhys Ruddock to come into the squad if he doesn't make it. There is loads of impact on the bench in the likes of Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Quinn Roux, Ian Madigan and Andrew Conway.

Truth be told Leinster were lucky enough to win that game back in March, relying on Ian Madigan's superb kicking and his late opportunist try to get them through. In that game, Glasgow were the better team for the first sixty minutes. They really took the game to Leinster but didn't finish it off and they'll have a lot of confidence that they can complete the deal this time. That said, none of Leinster's six Lions or Mike Ross were picked to play that day.

It's slightly bewildering that Leinster are struggling to sell tickets for this vital match.  If they lose tomorrow, they will have failed in both their main objectives this season and any win next week in the Amlin final will feel very hollow indeed.  It would also be a horrible way to say goodbye to Joe Schmidt, Isa Nacewa, Jonny Sexton and the others who are leaving at the end of the season.  It will be very tough undoubtedly, but that motivation alone should hopefully be enough to get Leinster through.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Glasgow Warriors
Teams Rob Kearney
15 Stuart Hogg
Fergus McFadden
14 Sean Maitland
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Sean Lamont
Gordon D'Arcy
12 Alex Dunbar
Isa Nacewa
11 DTH Van der Merwe
Jonathan Sexton
10 Peter Horne
Isaac Boss
9 Niko Matawalu

Cian Healy
1 Ryan Grant
Richardt Strauss
2 Pat MacArthur
Mike Ross
3 Jon Welsh
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Tim Swinson
Devin Toner
5 Al Kellock
Kevin McLaughlin
6 Josh Strauss
Sean O'Brien / Shane Jennings
7 John Barclay
Jamie Heaslip
8 Ryan Wilson

Replacements Sean Cronin
16 Fraser Brown
Jack McGrath
17 Moray Low
Jamie Hagan
18 Ed Kalman
Quinn Roux
19 Tom Ryder
Shane Jennings / Rhys Ruddock
20 Rob Harley
John Cooney
21 Henry Pyrgos
Ian Madigan
22 Ruaridh Jackson
Andrew Conway
23 Mark Bennett

Not considered
due to injury
Jordan Coghlan,
Jack Conan,
David Doyle,
Tadgh Furlong,
Darren Hudson,
Damian Browne,
Eoin Reddan,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Eoin O'Malley,
Heinke van der Merwe,
Dave Kearney

Michael Cusack (shoulder),
Chris Cusiter (shoulder),
Chris Fusaro (groin),
Finlay Gillies (neck),
Duncan Weir (ankle),
Dougie Hall (knee)

Match Officials Referee: Pascal Gauzere (FFR),
Assistant Referees: Marius Mitrea, Giuseppe Vivarini (both FIR),
TMO: Carlo Damasco (FIR)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2013-05-17

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