herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

blues boss is wary of rhys

Leinster need to avoid back-to-back defeats in PRO12

Coach Matt O'Connor has taken care to forewarn Leinster about the merit of Wales out-half Rhys Priestland.

"I think he's a brilliant footballer. He's probably been criticised for his game-management, but in relation to the brand of rugby and what he delivers for Scarlets, he's a real threat," he stated.

"He certainly pulls the strings for them and creates a lot of opportunities for the blokes around him which is a lot of the key things you're asking for from a ten".

This comes at a time when Leinster out-half Jimmy Gopperth has met with the first mini-crisis of his time here. He would be the first to admit he was a distance short of his best in round one.

There is nothing to focus the mind like a bad personal performance and the increasing threat of Ian Madigan makes it imperative that Gopperth avoids back-to-back bad days.

There was even the strong possibility of an outing in the number ten jersey for Madigan today until Noel Reid fell foul of an ankle ligament strain, limiting O'Connor's options at twelve.

Madigan was one of many Leinster men who were not able to tame Glasgow's warrior attitude: "I thought it was quite difficult for him relative to the performance of the whole group".

O'Connor let loose a small piece of information which seemed to lean towards Madigan being mostly used in the number ten jersey this season.

"He hadn't done any preparation there since the end of the season, so it was a big ask".

The partnership between Madigan and Brendan Macken in the centre will come under the microscope against Scott Williams and Gareth Owen, replacing the injured Regan King.

The Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has seen fit to put out what is surely the smallest, possibly the quickest, back three in the PRO12 with Liam Williams - he was not suspended for his red card against Ulster - in behind the diminutive and lightening quick Harry Robinson and Jordan Williams, a real gem.

"All rugby players love playing in front of a big crowd," said Pivac, in light of Leinster selling 14,500 tickets by Thursday.

"The bigger the crowd, the bigger the occasion and the bigger the performance and, hopefully, we'll be no different. No matter where you play, it's great to play in front of a bumper crowd".

CAVALRY

Leinster have a cavalry worth the name held in reserve. Cian Healy and rapidly improving tight-head Tadhg Furlong are there. Eoin Reddan is ready to make his first appearance of the season.

There could also be a Leinster debut for 2013 Ireland U20 fly-half Steve Crosbie. The 21 year-old, out of St Gerard's School, is comfortable at twelve as his greatest strength is his transfer of the ball right on the gain line.

Crosbie is not afraid to risk the heavy hit if it will put one of his runners through a gap and he has really knuckled down to the kicking demands that have not been natural to his game.

Leinster: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, B Macken, I Madigan, D Fanning; J Gopperth, I Boss; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross, D Toner, M McCarthy, D Ryan, S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt).

The Scarlets: L Williams; H Robinson, G Owen, S Williams, J Williams; R Priestland, R Williams; P John, K Owens (capt), R Jones, J Ball, J Snyman, A Shingler, J Barclay, R Pitman.

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