Leinster vs. Glasgow: Key Battles That Will Shape RaboDirect Pro12 Final
Leinster defend their RaboDirect Pro12 title against the Glasgow Warriors at the RDS Arena this Saturday, and they look to dazzle on a filled day of rugby climaxes where the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 curtain calls will also glean interest.
On paper, Leinster and Glasgow are the two most deserving final participants, having finished first and second in the table, respectively, but home advantage promises to give the Dubliners a decisive upper hand in this weekend's contest.
That being said, Gregor Townsend's up-and-comers were unfortunate to have come away from the RDS with no more than a losing bonus point when they made their way to Ireland back in March, and fans will be hoping for a similarly entertaining rendition of that 28-25 result.
Here, we examine some of the essential head-to-head struggles likely to shape Saturday's final.
1. Rob Kearney vs. Peter Murchie
With the news that Stuart Hogg will once again not be involved in Townsend's line-up this weekend, Rob Kearney will be breathing a subtle sigh of relief that he won't have his fellow British and Irish Lion to compete against.
In his place, it will most likely be Peter Murchie filling in at fullback for the Warriors on Saturday, and Leinster's use of Kearney's aerial prowess may indeed shift as a result of the apparent squad squabble.
Of course, a lot of that battle will depend on whether it's Ian Madigan or Jimmy Gopperth lined up at fly-half for the hosts, a No. 10 battle that he admitted to the Irish Independent does "make things difficult" at times:
I will say, you know, it is difficult for players, it is difficult for a coach, and it’s difficult for the two guys themselves if things are being swapped around every week.
But that’s the nature of it when you’ve got two talented guys who, for most of the season have been there or thereabouts, battling it out for the one jersey. It sort of makes things a little bit difficult.
Murchie's performance at fullback for Glasgow in the win over Munster a fortnight ago didn't throw up any major alarm bells, but the challenge of taking on Kearney this weekend will be a significantly more daunting one-on-one to prepare for.
2. Sean O'Brien vs. Rob Harley
Sean O'Brien is being handled with care since returning from injury a few weeks ago, and although he's not quite back to his fighting best just yet, one can bet on the Tullow Tank to be giving his all at the RDS on Saturday.
And that's a fearsome challenge for Rob Harley to consider, as he looks to take on one of the finest blindsides in world rugby, although he will benefit from O'Brien's somewhat weakened state.
The one thing that Glasgow have improved upon massively—perhaps more than anything in recent years—is their defence, and the way in which they now govern the ruck is similar to the pride that Scotland's national team have at the breakdown.
Harley isn't the same carrying threat as O'Brien, but he can still limit his opposite number's influence on the game by ensuring possession stays within his own ranks, fighting tooth-and-nail at every 50-50 scenario.
3. Brian O'Driscoll vs. Mark Bennett
The first of two Leinster bastions making their Leinster sendoffs this weekend, Brian O'Driscoll will look to follow up Six Nations glory with his national side by adding a prestigious club honour to his collection.
For 15 years, the centre has grown as a Dublin staple and has been at the core of every Leinster success for the great majority of that time.
Mark Bennett is most likely to partner Alex Dunbar in the hopes that they can rain on that parade, but it's an awful lot to ask of the man on an individual level, with emotions running so high for the hosts' iconic No. 13.
O'Driscoll has made a habit of stepping up to the plate at the most important junctures, so it's foreseeable that Bennett's influence may have to be in a more defensive capacity as opposed to what he can engineer with ball in hand himself.
4. Leo Cullen vs. Jonny Gray
The other Leinster figure pulling on the club colours for the last time this weekend will be Leo Cullen, a similarly pivotal figure on the big stage who won't leave an ounce of energy on the RDS turf.
And while one lock in this fixture comes to the end of his days at the top, Jonny Gray's are still in their infancy, but that is by no means intended to belittle the talent that's held by Richie Gray's younger sibling.
This Saturday's second-row battle could be a mesmerising aspect of the fixture, with Devin Toner, Alastair Kellock, Tim Swinson and the other wealth of lock reserves waiting to have their impact on matters in just about every facet of the game.
However, Cullen and Gray both possess reliable hands at the line-out and are each capable of making their progressing breaks around the fringes, staging a quite literal giant matchup of heads both old and young.
5. Zane Kirchner vs. Tommy Seymour
Leinster will be buoyed by the news that Zane Kirchner could be fit to feature once again this weekend, but it would seem a place on the right wing is the best he can hope for, at least as far as the starting XV goes.
That being said, the Springbok is nevertheless a physically imperious figure for Tommy Seymour to be contemplating a struggle against, and one would have to say that Kirchner possesses the advantage in brawn alone.
However, Seymour has excelled in his new responsibilities over the past year with the Warriors, seeing his credentials as a genuinely reliable Scottish international undergo a great deal of good.
The 25-year-old visitor will be hoping that Kirchner's timer on the sidelines makes him a rusty and perhaps defensively susceptible target at times, with Finn Russell sure to be probing his sense of position with the boot.