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Leinster Rugby vs Glasgow Warriors
Rabodirect Pro 12 Grand Final
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Saturday, 31st May 2014, 18:15

Television: Live - RTE2, TG4, BBC ALBA

Leinster take on Glasgow Warriors tomorrow evening looking to be become the first team to retain the Celtic League/Magners League/Pro12/whatever you're having yourself trophy. Whatever it's been called, Leinster have been in every Grand Final since the league switched to the play-off structure in 2009. Of the five finals, four have been in the RDS, although last year's was only switched to there as Ravenhill's redevelopment wasn't complete in time.

So with all that in mind, it's a little bit jarring that Leinster only won one of those finals. If they lose tomorrow it will be a record of one win in five finals, four of which were in the RDS. Given how good Leinster's record in European finals is, this must be a considerable source of annoyance for them and they will be determined to improve their record in finals. Obviously the fact that this will be Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen's final game will serve as motivation too but this was discussed enough in yesterday's tribute to the pair.

Glasgow won't be short of motivation either though. In a time of unrelenting bleakness for Scottish rugby between a floundering national team and a struggling domestic structure, Glasgow's success has been a rare beam of light. They play good rugby, get good crowds and they win a lot of games. Their success has been a shot in the arm for the Scottish game and you'd hope that the blazers at the Scottish Union can learn from their good example. It is also good for the league as well which was in danger of becoming a glorified Irish Inter-pro series with the near collapse of the Welsh regions and the lack of competitive Italian teams.

This is actually the tenth meeting between Leinster and Glasgow in the last three seasons in all competitions. Of the previous nine meetings, Leinster have won six, Glasgow two and there was one draw. In all bar one of those games, the winning margin has been seven points or less so it shows how little there is between the two teams.

Glasgow have certainly been consistent over the last few years. They've only failed to make the play-offs once in the last five seasons. Since Gregor Townsend took over as coach at the start of last season though, he's taken them from a handy top-four team to potential champions. He had openly admitted he modelled a lot of what he did on Joe Schmidt's Leinster team, who were the best team in Europe when he took the job.

Townsend didn't have quite the calibre of player to work with that Schmidt did, but it's not hard to see the similarities in styles. They play an attractive brand of rugby, but it's also very pragmatic and very much built around domination of the breakdown. Last season their form exploded after Christmas when Fijian Niko Matawalu came in at scrum-half. His power and pace off the base of the ruck gave them a focal point to play off and suddenly they were scoring tries for fun. Matawalu was something of an "all-or-nothing" player however and when teams specifically targeted him, as Leinster did in last season's semi-final, Glasgow's attack could be blunted.

This season, Townsend has gone more for specialist scrum-halves in internationals Christ Cusiter and Henry Pyrgos, with Matawalu played either on the wing or sprung from the bench. They haven't been quite as dazzling in attack but they have looked a steadier side and their defence also improved to become the meanest in the league only conceding 22 tries. Their early season form was a bit up and down, but they've finished the season with a strong run of nine straight wins, their last defeat coming against Leinster in the RDS during the Six Nations.

Their gameplan isn't hugely complicated but it is very effective and far from easy to stop. It's based around their power runners like Josh Strauss, Jonny Gray and Alex Dunbar coming onto the ball in the narrow channels. They rarely fail to make ground and when they do they're very hard to turn over with the exceptional breakdown work of flankers Chris Fusaro and Rob Harley. This means that they are very comfortable at keeping the ball for multiple phases, wearing the opposition defence down before they unleash their pacy strike runners in Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett and Tommy Seymour.

Of course, they're missing their most dangerous player in Scotland and Lions full-back Stuart Hogg, and it's not due to injury. In a call that shows considerable courage, Townsend has preferred Peter Murchie for the semi-final and the final with Hogg not even in the squad. The reasons for this aren't entirely clear, although there have been rumours about Hogg moving on at the end of the season. Townsend has also shown courage in picking young out-half Finn Russell for the run-in.

For the last few seasons Glasgow have alternated between the talented but flaky Ruaridh Jackson and the dependable but dull Duncan Weir. Russell was only playing club rugby at the start of the season but he's taken his chance superbly and seems to combine the best traits of Weir and Jackson, being a dependable kicker who can also get the backline going.

Townsend has named a team that shows only two changes from the team who beat Munster. Mark Bennett is somewhat surprisingly dropped so Alex Dunbar can move to the outside channel with Peter Horne coming in at inside centre. The other change is in the front row where in another surprise selection Gordon Reid, replaces Lions loosehead prop Ryan Grant. Townsend certainly doesn't pick on reputation anyway.

For Leinster there are three changes to the team which started the semi-final against Ulster. Dave Kearney's injury means Zane Kirchner comes in to start on the left wing in the only change to the backline. The other two changes are in the tight five. Mike McCarthy has recovered from injury to replace Quinn Roux in the second row and Mike Ross has gotten the nod over Martin Moore to start at tight-head prop. Moore takes his place on a very strong bench that features Jack McGrath, Leo Cullen, Sean O'Brien and a fit-again Isaac Boss. Given the impact he made the last day, Ian Madigan will be disappointed not to start but he will be certainly be needed at some point and Darragh Fanning has won the battle over Noel Reid and Brendan Macken for the bench spot. Fanning will have the chance to be the only player to play in Leinster's two finals this season, having been part of the 'A' side that won the British & Irish cup so well last weekend.

The manner of the 'A' team's performance would probably have been the basis of some slagging in training this week as they played with an attacking swagger we used to associate with the senior team. Leinster's attack once again struggled against Ulster and only really looked potent when Madigan came on in the centre. Leinster rode their luck in that game and if they go 55 minutes without scoring against this Glasgow team, the game will be over. Leinster can't just rely on their defence this time; their attack needs to come to the party as well.

Glasgow are bringing over what will be a record travelling support for them and it should ensure that the RDS will be rocking come kick-off. It will be a massively physical contest and no doubt it will go down to the wire again. Hopefully Leinster's bench can bring them home and Leo and Brian can lift the trophy together.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Glasgow Warriors
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Peter Murchie
Fergus McFadden 14 Sean Maitland
Brian O'Driscoll 13 Alex Dunbar
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Peter Horne
Zane Kirchner 11 Tommy Seymour
Jimmy Gopperth 10 Finn Russell
Eoin Reddan 9 Chris Cusiter

Cian Healy 1 Gordon Reid
Sean Cronin 2 Dougie Hall
Mike Ross 3 Jon Welsh
Devin Toner
4 Jonny Gray
Mike McCarthy 5 Al Kellock
Rhys Ruddock6 Rob Harley
Shane Jennings 7 Chris Fusaro
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 Josh Strauss

Replacements Aaron Dundon 16 Pat MacArthur
Jack McGrath 17 Ryan Grant
Martin Moore 18 Moray Low
Leo Cullen 19 Tim Swinson
Sean O'Brien 20
Leone Nakarawa
Isaac Boss 21 Niko Matawalu
Ian Madigan 22 Ruaridh Jackson
Darragh Fanning 23 Sean Lamont

Not Considered
due to Injury
Andrew Goodman,
Richardt Strauss,
Tom Denton,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Dave Kearney

DTH van der Merwe,
Ryan Wilson,
Mike Cusack,
Finlay Gillies,
Ed Kalman,
Tom Ryder
Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Ian Davies (both WRU),
Citing Commissioner: Maurizio Vancini (FIR),
TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-05-30