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Do Or Die For Leinster This Weekend

Leinster face Harlequins in European action on Sunday in one of the biggest games of the Ballsbridge side’s season, writes Jonathan Fitzpatrick.

Lying in 5th place in the Guinness Pro12, Leinster haven’t played to their usual standards, and are a shadow of the team they once were. After a season of inconsistencies, Leinster finally have the chance to put it right at The Stoop.

Injuries have rocked Matt O’Connor’s side in recent months. It looked like we could expect a change of fortune for Leinster, welcoming players back from injury over the last three weeks. However, an injury to Fergus McFadden on his return, and minor injuries to Dave Kearney and Dominic Ryan will leave Matt O’Connor rueing his bad luck.

Injuries aside, Leinster turned in a disappointing display against the Ospreys last week. At 18-12, it was a tight game, not much of a spectacle for the masses. Although it was the win they needed, it wasn’t the performance they craved. They’ll need that performance entering their double header against Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins.

For all Leinster’s domestic troubles this season, they’re undefeated in the European Rugby Champions Cup. Wins against Wasps and Castres have put the Irish outfit just behind Harlequins in Pool 2. ‘Quins sit on top on points difference, also undefeated, with their own domestic woes.

Sitting at 9th position in the Premiership, Harlequins have scrapped just 4 wins this season. 5 defeats is a poor return for Harlequins who finished third in the Premiership last season. They haven’t gelled this season thus far, and whilst they have some incredibly talented players, the team haven’t performed together.

Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter make up some of a formidable Harlequins pack, and they’ll look to use their brute force and physicality to beat Leinster into submission. Easter is a seasoned veteran with buckets of experience, along with the workhorse Robshaw. They’ll have a long day working around the park against an in form more dynamic Leinster back row of Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip. The backrow battle will be key in how the game unfolds, and Leinster should edge it here.

The battle across the front row will also be crucial. Joe Marler will take on former teammate Mike Ross. Ross will have to be at his best to limit the destructive capabilities of Joe Marler, while Jack McGrath will face off against highly regarded English prospect Will Collier. Referee Jérôme Garcès’ interpretation of the scrum will be key, and it’ll be a tentative game of chess between the two front rows.

At scrum half Danny Care will be vital to Harlequins momentum. A fantastic talent, he is a key ingredient in ‘Quins makeup. Adding pace and direction to their attack, he dictates the game well. The experienced Eoin Reddan will have his hands full dealing with the wily Care.

Jimmy Gopperth will continue to line out at 10 for Leinster, despite his poor form, as calls for Ian Madigan’s switch to the pivotal role have fallen on deaf ears. A fellow Kiwi opposes Gopperth at fly half – Nick Evans. Evans is a class act, and is a cut above what Gopperth can offer. If Evans is on form and stamps his authority on the game, Leinster will find it extremely difficult to live in the cauldron that is The Stoop. Madigan starts at 12, and will play a huge part in the game from just inside Gopperth.

The other two big battles are between Mike Brown and Rob Kearney, and Marland Yarde and Luke Fitzgerald. Kearney and Brown are two of the best fullbacks in world rugby on their day, and their collision will be an interesting subplot. It’ll also be intriguing to see how Luke Fitzgerald deals with this clash, after his long storied battle with injuries. Against the pace of Yarde, it won’t be an easy European comeback for Fitzgerald.

Both sides have suffered their woes this season. Harlequins haven’t gelled, and Leinster are a shadow of the side they once were. If Harlequins can bully Leinster up front, Care gets clean ball, and Nick Evans gains control of the game, the English side could steer themselves to a victory.

For Leinster – they need to quicken it up. Hit them strong and hard at the breakdown and flash it out quick, move Harlequins around the pitch, and beat them out wide.  It’s something we watched Leinster do for years, but we’ve missed it recently. Leinster’s backrow could be the key here, providing the leadership and example for their peers to follow. Leinster know the importance of winning away fixtures, and they’ll need to use all of their experience to score a win.

This game will be a huge test for Matt O’Connor and his team. An away game at Harlequins, I’ll take an ugly win any day of the week. But there’s more than that at stake. Leinster need to show a flash of character in this game, reminding us of the rugby that made them world beaters. Anything else, and we’ll be reminded further by how far the former European giants have fallen.

Anything else, and Matt O’Connor’s days could be numbered.

Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.