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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Leinster want a 'Matt finish'

Blues must marry attack with defence of their crown

Glasgow Warriors v Leinster, Scotstoun, Saturday 5.15 - Sky Sports 1.

All the leading clubs in the PRO12 can drink in the profile that comes so naturally when Guinness put its name to any sponsorship deal. The sensational hype machine that is Sky Sports has also come on board.

As everyone knows, though, it is all about what happens on the turf and Leinster have rightly spoken of how fortunate they feel to be making their way to Glasgow at a time in the season when there is every chance of a mild night on fast track, not a winter chill on a churned-up surface.

In the long distant past, before Gregor Townsend came along, this would have been to Leinster's advantage when they had a patent on razzle-dazzle.

This all altered last season when Townsend's ways seeped through to the bones of his players. Their template was taken from none other than the Joe Schmidt model of how the game should be played. The marriage between defence and attack, like most unions, is never as smooth as silk.

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor (pictured, below left) looked at what Schmidt had done at Leinster and determined where the attack had gained the defence had lost. There was room to tighten the grip on what they did without the pill.

The second season has brought a more balanced approach with the players' deeper understanding of what is required to apply a 'Matt finish' to a sure and swift build-up.

There was little or no evidence of elevated levels of prowess in attack against Ulster last week. Then again, every good poker player keeps his cards close until he has to play them.

Here is a meaningful, menacing challenge for Leinster. Glasgow have won their last eight at Scotstoun. The champions lost at Edinburgh and Glasgow in the 2013/2014 regular season.

Verdict: Glasgow.

Munster v Edinburgh, Thomond Park, Friday 7.35 - TG4.

A good start is not exactly half the battle when you have 22 rounds of hard work to get through.

It would mean more to Munster than most, considering the controversy they have had to deal with in terms of the leak of private player information last week.

Coach Anthony Foley has been put on the back-foot before a ball has been kicked in anger and, as everyone knows, you can do precious little if you stay there.

There is nothing like a good old fashioned piece of discord to foster the 'us against the word' mentality that once was Munster's go-to gadget in times of need.

There was also a time when Thomond was a 'Bastille' that could not be stormed. Munster have been beaten there the last two times by Glasgow and Ulster in the PRO12 League.

Edinburgh have had to endure the rise of Glasgow just as they have made negligible ground from to 11th to 10th to eighth in the last three seasons.

They concluded last season with five straight defeats and travel in the knowledge that they have won once - it came against Connacht in 2012 - in their last 23 visits to Ireland.

Munster: R O'Mahony; A Conway, J Murphy, A Smith, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; J Ryan, K O'Byrne, BJ Botha, D O'Callaghan (capt), B Holland, CJ Stander, S Dougall, S Buckley.

Verdict: Munster.

The Scarlets v Ulster, Parc Y Scarlets, Saturday 2.40 - Sky Sports 1.

The exit of Mark Anscombe and entry of Les Kiss as interim head coach has been seamless because the Australian already has a close working relationship with Ulster's Ireland internationals.

It remains to be seen what will happen with this temporary little arrangement. Kiss has let it be known in the past that he wanted to be a head coach when the time was right.

The problem is the full-time transfer of Kiss's skills would diminish Ireland even further given how they have already had to replace forwards coach John Plumtree with Simon Easterby so close to the 2015 World Cup.

Verdict: Ulster.

Connacht v The Dragons, The Sportsground, Saturday 5.0.

Coach Pat Lam's end point has to be qualification for the European Champions Cup.

The signings made have been eye-catching. All Black centurion Mils Muliaina, 34, is an investment in ambition, supported by the import of fellow New Zealanders centre Bundee Aki and hooker Tom McCartney.

The Dragons have not been able to get what they want from Galway since their last win there in 2004.

The Westerners look like they are better equipped this season. They just have to get off to the right start.

Verdict: Connacht.

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