HARK back to 2012 if you can. The stage was set. The Pro12 final in the RDS was to be the glazed cherry on the cake.
Rent-an-opposition had brought the Ospreys along for the occasion. A week after trouncing Ulster to retain the Heineken Cup the celebrations were set to continue into the week- the Borgias couldn’t do excess and success to this level.
The Ospreys were like one of those useless pacemakers in the 1,500 metre races in Europe that nobody follows - every now and again those pacemakers gets so far ahead and just keeps going and wins the race and the 2012 Heineken Champions got bush-whacked at their own party.
Instead of glazed cherries we had glazed looks and a squad that looked more sheepish than Dolly the clone.
Maybe it won’t happen - maybe Leo and Brian will walk around the RDS acknowledging the heartfelt sentiment with winner’s medals around their necks. This one has ambush written all over it and two days before the final Leinster can’t really do anything to change destiny. It is pre-determined.
It is important to recognise a couple of things in the pre-match lead in.
Glasgow are a fine side and they have a coach who is better than the one that Leinster have. Gregor Townsend has freely admitted that he has modelled his gameplan and squad ethos on what he saw going on in Dublin.
The Leinster blueprint was what he had aspirations to reproduce. He has done a bloody good job.
The blueprint is Joe Schmidt’s with overtones from the hugely influential Jono Gibbes and the cantankerous and niggardly Michael Cheika.
Townsend has adopted a very smart outlook and infused his own personality into it. He was a great player if you remember and he was not afraid to try things.
Basically - try it, see what works and throw away the bad bits. They have refined Leinster’s approach and have now superseded it - there is no copyright.
Glasgow though are not copying what Leinster are doing now because the blue team now play a sterile and lowest common denominator type rugby and Townsend wants his team to progress not stand still which is what Leinster are doing.
Leinster’s raw talent is stagnating and their backline is as functional as Tourettes at an auction.
Leinster have scored more points than any other team in the Rabo and more tries as well but the stats mask what is happening on the field. Leinster can bury the weaker sides with their all encompassing game but against the better sides they play a defensively orientated percentage game which is sometimes too close for comfort instead of touting themselves and their ability.
In terms of what is immediately facing them on the other side of the field only Jonny Gray and Ally Kellock would be guaranteed a place in Leinster’s starting XV and Chris Cusiter would get sympathy in any argument over ownership of the number 9 jersey. If that is the case how come Glasgow are even bothering to show up?
The constituent components are strong in the side. They seem to me to be the fittest side in the competition.
They win most of their matches late in the second half. A notable boon in that Leinster play at a tempo that other sides can only match for 60 or 70 minutes before they make errors or leave gaps. Glasgow will not be burnt off because they can’t live with the pace.
They are defensively mature and certain with their objectives when they don’t have the ball.
They only conceded 22 tries all season which is the lowest in the league. Against Munster in the semi-final they looked like a bunch of cannibals during a missionary shortage.
The key area will be at tight. Leinster have misguidedly started to copy what Leicester are used to doing. Scrumming people to death.
Leinster have used their scrum to win their last three or four games. This is a sea change in emphasis. Using your scrum - even though it is a dominant scrum - can be a double-edged sword.
Referees so often - even good ones - misinterpret who was responsible for a cave-in or a wheel. Quite often the penalty count is so even it’s not worth the effort. Leinster have the luxury of starting Cian Healy and Marty Moore and then around the 50 or so bringing on Jack McGrath and Mike Ross which is a little bit unfair - most other teams, Ulster included, would be sweating gravy trying to cope with the quality of scrummaging props.
In boxing parlance - body shots instead of head shots.
The boxer goes down not because of the knockout blow but because the continuous absorption to the body leaves him unable to function.
I don’t think there will be a huge number of scrums this Saturday and I don’t think Leinster will be able to bully Glasgow in this area.
I also think that Leinster in the tight phase will struggle at lineout as they traditionally always do. They really struggled at scrum and lineout in the 2012 final against Ospreys who were confident that they could upset Leinster in that area. It gave them a toe hold in the game.
The other crucial element to this game is what both teams can produce from the bench.
I am an advocate of picking your best players in a starting position. On that basis Seán O’Brien plays on the blindside, however, both coaches might think that the introduction of quality with 25 or 20 to go might swing it.
Townsend certainly won the match for Glasgow against Munster when he introduced their two Fijian superstars. Scrumhalf Nikola Matawalu and Leone Nakarawa both brought skills level and a dazzling impetus to proceedings in the game against Munster.
If Glasgow are ahead or even close this pair could be the difference. O’Brien’s case for the bench is compelling. He probably still doesn’t have the gas for even 70 at this stage of his rehab - but you would be certain that he could produce four or five dynamic interventions in the last 20-25 - so much so that it might be argued in hindsight that he should start in the first place.
I just have this feeling that Leinster are not as ruthless or meticulous when opportunity comes their way.
They butcher far too many chances for my liking. Glasgow are a cold blooded side who are unfazed with Leinster’s pedigree and reputation and will be confident in their own defence systems.
I feel the team that plays more territory will win this game and I have a bad feeling that Leinster could be saying goodbye to their two icons in an empty-handed manner because Leinster will have an opponent who is not afraid of them and can match them for smarts - based purely on what Leinster used to do over the glory years.
I think this one is already decided.