RaboDirect PRO 12
RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Leinster
Leinster have now tasted defeat in the last three RaboDirect finals despite showing the most consistency during that period. Will they justify their favourites tag or will Schmidt's men just fall short again?
By Declan Whooley
Head Coach Joe Schmidt
The Heineken Cup winners showed remarkable consistency in the Rabo last year, losing only three games during the league before succumbing to a dramatic defeat at home to the Ospreys in the final. Dan Biggar's touchline conversion gave the Welsh outfit a 31-30 victory to condemn Joe Schmidt’s men to a third final defeat in a row.
Provincially, the reigning European champions swept all before them, winning all six interpro ties on an aggregate scoreline of 145–82. And the scary thing was, that was often without the big names in the team.
Moment of the season
Despite ultimately falling agonisingly short in the final, Leinster provided us with numerous outstanding moments over the entire campaign. Their opening try in the final was the perfect example of the brand of rugby that Joe Schmidt has developed since his arrival on these shores.
The move goes through several phases of play, with backs and forwards all equally comfortable on the ball. Hooker Sean Cronin has the honour of crossing the line for the score. Look out for Isa Nacewa showing his strength by pulling Cronin up off the ground.
With possibly the strongest squad in European rugby, Leinster have only added a few names to their current panel. Second row Quinn Roux has joined from South African outfit Stormers to fill the void left by Brad Thorn.
Utility back Andrew Goodman comes from New Zealand while second row Tom Denton joins from Leeds Carnegie. Tighthead Michael Bent arrives from Super 15 franchise Hurricanes after Nathan White left to take up residence at the Sportsground with Connacht.
Key Player – Mike Ross
Leinster’s backline is arguably the most potent in European rugby and would be a match for the best Super 15 has to offer, but it is the front row that could well decide if Leinster add more silverware this season.
Mike Ross is the cornerstone of the scrum and his importance is evident when he is absent as Ireland have found out dearly. He is the best Irish scrummager we have and will be vital in the business end of the season. As the saying goes, forwards determine who wins, backs by how much.
Young player to watch – Jordan Coghlan
There are big expectations at Leinster for their up-and-coming backrow Jordan Coghlan. The Clongowes man was a vital member of Mike Ruddock's Ireland U-20 team at the IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa this summer. Predominantly a number 8, Coghlan filled all three back row positions during the course of the competition, where Ireland finished 5th after beating the hosts, England and France along the way.
Joe Schmidt clearly sees versatility in the 19-year-old and named the UCD player at inside-centre during one of this summer's pre-season encounters. Expect him to feature strongly in the British & Irish Cup and push for squad inclusions over the course of the league. Coghlan is quite the all-rounder having represented Ireland at various age groups in cricket.
Leinster will hope to have a strong representation in Australia. Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy are certainties barring injuries. Gordon Darcy, Mike Ross, Eoin Reddan, Luke Fitzgerald and Fergus McFadden will be hoping for a strong season and to outshine some of their rivals from the Home Nations. Richardt Strauss could be an outside bet if the South African declares for Ireland under the IRFU 'player project' initiative.
When push comes to shove, they could well eclipse Munster's record of eight representatives in the final squad selection.
Prediction – 1st
Leinster have finished top of the table in three of the past five seasons but have only won the competition once in that period. They will want to plunder more silverware this year and it is nigh on impossible to back against Joe Schmidt’s men. Will most likely top the table, but the minimum they would expect will be a home semi-final. Expect Schmidt to have his side primed to take the silverware after recent near misses.
If Leinster were a biscuit they would be ……..an OREO
People were for a long time unsure of the flashy biscuit and focused on its soft centre. The perception has changed not only because of an improved product, but also clever marketing and changing tastes.
Undoubted quality and a leader within the market. Keeping up with modern trends by offering different packages for different consumers. The envy of its rivals.
Most likely headline
Tullow Tank Storms Thomond Park
Least likely headline
Leinster in the Schmidt as Champions Crash Out at Pool Stage