Leinster and Glasgow go to war on Saturday night at the RDS in what will be the Irish province’s fifth league final in a row. In stark contrast to Matt O’Connor’s side, Glasgow have qualified for the RaboDirect Pro12 Final for the first time in their history and are in blistering form ahead of the Dublin showdown.
Pundit Arena spoke to former Munster and Leinster star Trevor Hogan to gauge his opinion on how the clash will unfold. Hogan is confident of a Leinster victory, but knows the province are in for a tough battle against the Warriors.
“Outside of the clash with Toulon, the Glasgow game will be Leinster’s most difficult challenge yet. Rob Kearney has set the stakes high, saying that the season could be deemed a failure if they lose.
“There has been a little bit of rumblings from some fans that haven’t been happy with certain aspects of the Leinster season. Personally, I think they’ve done really well and the defence has come a long way, but a lot does hinge on this game.”
The RDS will bid farewell to Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen, two pillars of Leinster rugby, on Saturday night and Hogan feels this will provide the province with added motivation.
“With the O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen aspects to the game, Leinster should just have the edge over Glasgow.”
Although Leinster continue to win games, the nature of their victories has been a tad worrying. Periods of insouciance and absent-mindedness came to the fore in the 62-7 demolition of Treviso, a scoreline that papered over the cracks in the Leinster display. However, the character shown to overturn Ulster in the semi-final portrayed the character that lies within Matt O’Connor’s side.
“Leinster’s ability to turn results around is something I believe they have more than any other province. I know Munster had it in their prime, and Ulster do not seem to have it at all, but this belief in the current Leinster squad is invaluable.
“When things aren’t going well, they still have that extra gear. Leinster have, at times, not looked great but still have the ability to grind out results and I think that comes from belief within the squad.”
The talent at Leinster’s disposal, although not on Toulon’s level, is quite intimidating. The battle for the number ten position is one that has dominated the media of late, particularly after Ian Madigan’s heroic match-winning try against Ulster. Matt O’Connor has decided to go with Jimmy Gopperth for the final, but Madigan is expected to have an impact on the game when he does enter the field of play.
The worry for Leinster (and Irish) fans is that Madigan’s heroics from the bench could be his downfall. If Matt O’Connor believes the Dubliner can add more when sprung from the bench, Madigan’s ambitions of a starting role next season could suffer irreparable damage.
“I get the sense that Matt is still finding out how good Madigan is. When a new coach comes in, it’s a clean slate and perhaps he wasn’t aware of how much Madigan brought last season.
“When you produce performances from the bench, like the Ulster bit of magic, it was potentially the first time Matt O’Connor saw how good Madigan can be.
“I don’t think he’s locked down as an impact player, but he’s got Matt’s attention and needs to make the most of it.”
Saturday’s clash will bring the curtain down on the incredible careers of Messrs O’Driscoll and Cullen. It may not be a Heineken Cup, but the Pro12 trophy would be a fitting end to one of the greatest chapters in Leinster’s history.
Richard Barrett, Pundit Arena.