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Leinster go for Gopperth

ONCE again, Jimmy Gopperth has won his personal dual with Ian Madigan to lead the backline in a Leinster side that shows three changes from the semi-final.

Second row Mike McCarthy has recovered from a leg injury to displace Quinn Roux, Mike Ross skips ahead of Martin Moore and Zane Kirchner replaces the injured Dave Kearney on the wing.

There is a solid look to the bench too with Sean O’Brien edging out Jordi Murphy for the back row, scrum-half Isaac Boss’s calf healing, Madigan covering fly-half, centre and full-back and Darragh Fanning the extra man on the flank.

For all of Leinster’s consistency in qualifying for their fifth straight PRO12 final, they have a paltry 25% winning return which finally arrived with last year’s victory over Ulster.

They have been twice humbled at The RDS by The Ospreys in 2010 and 2012 and Glasgow Warriors have done well enough in Dublin in recent seasons to believe this can be their day. There is also the undeniable evidence of Glasgow’s warrior spirit from their 23-19 defeat of Leinster here in September 2011. The signs of their rise have been consistent.

Usually, the hoodoo statistic of beating Leinster just once in the last nine matches in all competitions and once in the last 19 in Dublin would be a formidable psychological barrier. Not so here.

For all of that, Leinster have the pedigree, the players and the reasons to be the first club to win back-to-back League titles in what has been an up and down season for coach Matt O’Connor.

The Australians push in defence has taken time to bed-in, Leinster conceding more tries (30) and more points (352) than the other three clubs in the final four.

The unique harvest of so many of their players by Ireland for November and the Six Nations, left them vulnerable to more finely tuned outfits as they were forced into wide-ranging rotation. Since the conclusion of the Six Nations, Leinster have leaked four tries in seven matches, kept three clean sheets, most notably against Ulster.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, Z Kirchner; J Gopperth, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, D Toner, M McCarthy, R Ruddock, S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt).