Leinster must maintain high level of intensity

Already a game that was struggling to escape the shadow of next week’s Heineken Cup final, tonight’s RaboDirect PRO12 play-off has been relegated to the margins yet again by yesterday’s injury news concerning Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney.

Both picked up what were described by the club as “niggles” in training — the former to a knee, the latter to his back — and Leinster have gone no further than to say the pair would be monitored by their medical staff in the coming days.

It goes without saying the loss of one or both would represent a major blow to Joe Schmidt’s men who face Ulster in London in seven days’ time but the expectation is Leinster will still have too much for Glasgow today.

Schmidt has complained before about the air of expectation that can surround his team but their excellence brings it on themselves and the sense of inevitability about this one is highlighted by the fact that only 14,000 tickets had been shifted by last night.

Maybe, just maybe, something can be made of the fact Glasgow won in the RDS last September or that they have succeeded in making life difficult for Leinster twice this campaign in Firhill but Leinster tend to win when they really must.

A case in point being last November when a high-flying Warriors side came to Dublin for the second round of the Heineken Cup with great expectations but left soured by a 25-point defeat in a game that was over by the break.

O’Driscoll and Kearney aside, Schmidt has gone with what is close to his first-choice XV even if there are bits and pieces to be noted from the selection. For a start, Leo Cullen sits on the bench allowing Devin Toner combat Richie Gray’s aerial presence in the lineout.

With Eoin Reddan preferred to Isaac Boss at scrum-half and Shane Jennings starting in the back row ahead of Kevin McLaughlin, it would appear Schmidt has opted for mobility and speed ahead of physicality.

He went with an almost identical approach when the sides met at Firhill in round five of the Heineken Cup back in January and was rewarded with a valuable if imperfect win and four points which sealed their place in the last eight.

The Warriors did cause some discomfort at the breakdown that day and Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes expects Glasgow head coach Sean Lineen to hammer home the need for even greater intensity at the rucks given this is an all-or-nothing fixture for them.

“Sean acknowledged after ERC 2 that we kind of got momentum from our ruck and they were struggling a bit on theirs, ” said Gibbes. “If you look at ERC 2 and ERC 5 the big difference was that they really fronted up in the collision area.

“They were recognised this year as the Pro12 collision kings and they were gaining a bit of confidence and I think that area is going to be massive. We’re lucky with [referee] George [Clancy]. That’s probably one of his strengths, that area.”

Lineen, who is leaving the Scottish club after nine seasons, has made five changes from the side which confirmed its play-off spot with a 24-3 defeat of Connacht in the last round of regular season fixtures.

The experienced Chris Cusiter returns at scrum-half while Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur, and Mike Cusack form an all-new front row while captain Al Kellock comes in at lock.

“We’ve shown character, ability and tenacity to get ourselves into the semi-finals,” said Lineen yesterday. “The challenge now is to bring out those qualities in even bigger quantities to beat the best team in Europe.”

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; F McFadden, E O’Malley, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; B Thorn, D Toner; S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin, H van der Merwe, N White, L Cullen, K McLaughlin, I Boss, I Madigan, A Conway.

GLASGOW WARRIORS: S Hogg; F Aramburu, A Dunbar, G Morrison, DTH van der Merwe; D Weir, C Cusiter; R Grant, P MacArthur, M Cusack; R Gray, A Kellock; R Harley, C Fusaro. J Barclay.

Replacements: D Hall, J Welsh, M Low, T Ryder, H Pyrgos, J Beattie, R Jackson, P Murchie.


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