Ante firmly upped as Leinster face wounded Glasgow Warriors
Johnny Sexton back in the saddle as Stuart Hogg returns looking to keep Glasgow alive
Nobody is thinking about Ireland - besides that gang of hard nosed men led by Joe Schmidt – as there’s more pressing issues on the line in this early afternoon duel packaged primarily for television.
European survival is at stake for Glasgow. How quickly a season stutters. Exeter put three tries on them in round one, shredding their pack, their scrum, their maul and eventually their close-in defence. There is a theory that these Warriors sans Samoan lock Brian Alainu’uese and South African prop Oli Kebble lack the necessary muscle to contain European heavyweights.
Problem is, these Scottish internationals have been hearing this all week. They will improve to such an extent that Leinster may need an alternative method of filleting the only unbeaten Pro 14 side now they are staring down Champions Cup failure in October.
Ups the ante. As does the return of Johnny Sexton and Stuart Hogg.
“Stuart has really impressed during his time out injured,” said Glasgow coach Dave Rennie. “The energy he brings is infectious, his contribution on and off the field is influential. He’s got himself in great shape and is desperate to get back out there.”
The Scottish fullback hasn’t played since being accidentally split open by Conor Murray’s elbow on the Lions tour. His return is vital as Rennie has three strike runners in the back field, with Hogg alongside the always impressive Tommy Seymour and Italian winger Leonardo Sarto.
“Johnny has already played in a couple of games when he has been key, against Edinburgh and Munster, ” Leo Cullen protested.
Sexton penalties booted Munster down Lansdowne Road, and it seemed like his loss would derail the European opener against Montpellier but Ross Byrne and other rising elements delivered.
Leinster really have become a sum of their parts.
This is not about Ireland, no, but Dan Leavy sneaks onto the bench at a timely moment. Sean O’Brien travels with the panel having returned to training this week. Leavy was primed for a tilt at national selection come November until losing a vital six weeks following the same ankle surgery Isa Nacewa needed the other day. The 35-year-old captain’s second injury of the season means he is gone until December and with no word on Garry Ringrose’s recovery from shoulder surgery, Noel Reid gets another chance to convince doubters he can add defensive mettle to his wonderful distribution skills.
Hard to do wrong
Robbie Henshaw to the left, Sexton to the right, it will be hard for Reid to do much wrong.
James Ryan makes way for the returning Scott Fardy, who missed Montpellier after becoming a father, but the former Ireland under-20s captain, capped last summer in America, looks destined to cement his name on Cullen’s team sheet for these games. The province hasn’t seen Ryan’s locking talent since Malcolm O’Kelly’s hey day.
The 21-year-old should arrive off an unusual bench as Cian Healy and Sean Cronin force their way into the starting XV. Again, timely, with an eye to Springbok attempts to sack the Aviva stadium on November 11th.
Adam Byrne has run out of chances. Going forward he’s more dangerous than most wingers but his defensive naivety makes him a weakness Leinster cannot afford to carry into a game of this magnitude. Byrne disappears from view as Cullen goes back to Fergus McFadden, a player coaches trust, with Dave Kearney in reserve.
Barry Daly’s slick form absolves him from this ongoing debate.
With Exeter – the Premiership champions – to trade blows across two weekends in December a Leinster victory here puts them in control of a perilous Pool.
“This game was always a must win, regardless of the Exeter result,” said Rennie. “In this competition you need to win your home games and we’ve prepared well and are raring to go. Leinster were impressive last week. We are expecting another arm wrestle. It’ll be a brutal encounter.”
The weather plays into Sexton’s safe hands. Rain and up to 20 mile an hour winds makes for a treacherous affair, and a brutal battle up front, while Finn Russell will give Joey Carbery’s positional acumen another stern test. If Carbery shines he is conceivably putting pressure on Simon Zebo for the green jersey.
But nobody is thinking about that.
“We’ll try and get as much as we can out of the game,” said Cullen before adding: “But we are going there to win.”
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour, S Johnson, P Horne, L Sarto; F Russell, A Price; J Bhatti, G Turner, Z Fagerson; T Swinson, J Gray; R Wilson (capt), C Gibbins, A Ashe. Replacements: P MacArthur, A Allan, D Rae, S Cummings, R Harley, H Pyrgos, N Grigg, L Jones.
Leinster: J Carbery; F McFadden, R Henshaw, N Reid, B Daly; J Sexton (capt), L McGrath; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, S Fardy; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan. Replacements: J Tracy, J McGrath, M Bent, J Ryan, D Leavy, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, D Kearney.
Referee: J Garces (France).
Betting: Glasgow -2 10/11, Leinster +2 10/11
Previous: April 2017 Leinster 31-30 Glasgow; Sept 2016 Glasgow 33-25 Leinster; April 2016 Glasgow 12-6 Leinster.
Forecast: Leinster win.