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Saturday 16 December 2017

Saints can turn on style to chop down Wood's warriors

Clongowes Wood College v St Michael's College

Leinster Senior Cup final, The RDS, Wednesday MARCH 17, 3.30.

You could be forgiven for seeing a similarity between the Leinster Senior Cup final on St Patrick's Day and that of Ireland's Six Nations challenge from Wales in the Six Nations this weekend.

St Michael's will seek to play with a 'joie de vivre', with a very French or Welsh dedication to ball-in-hand, expansive, attractive rugby where the emphasis is on building a love of the game into the players.

Coach Greg McWilliams pushes an ethos of an all-inclusive game plan through a triumvirate of exceptional players, in Irish Schools half-backs Luke McGrath and Cathal Marsh, both destined to make Ireland's Five Nations squad in April, and centre Alex Kelly.

There is a range of skills, especially from Marsh, and unpredictability that gives St Michael's attack a wonderful degree of deception.

It is no coincidence that their three tries against St Gerard's in the semi-final arrived from their wingers, Mark Corballis (2) and David Egan.

The tendency for defences to protect the fringes and the inside channels from the perceived threats leaves space on the outside for able finishers to do their thing.

Of course, St Michael's have to get the ball to use the ball. It will be up to an under-sized front eight to take and administer a load of punishment which will demand them to push through the pain barrier.

Their captain, Emmet MacMahon, fulfilled the same role for the Ireland U19 Schools against Australian Schools before Christmas.

For all the creativity outside, it is likely the backrow of Daniel Leavy, Chris Kenna and Paddy Dix will have to command the breakdown.



Pressure

In contrast, Clongowes Wood like to look to a smart economy of possession in order to gain territory and then play the pressure game to erode defences, unleashing their quicker boys when appropriate.

Clongowes have played a very Irish, intelligent brand of rugby, which switches play from front to back depending on a game plan that swings more towards the percentages, with half-backs Dermot O'Meara and David Quirke inclined to make the correct decisions.

Certainly, the Clane school appears to hold a decided advantage in the front five, where resides a sturdy front-row of Edward Byrne, Evan Lewis and Ian Prendiville. Their captain Robert Hynes and Tadhg Beirne, an imposing second-row pair, are equally adept at the lineout and in the hard-hitting skirmishes that are the basis of front-foot rugby.

It is likely that coach Noel Murray will opt to play it cautiously in order to keep the game structured and within the control of Clongowes.

However, there is danger in the backline with Irish Schools international Stephen MacAuley their main strike runner from fullback.

The O'Suilleabhain brothers, Garret and Oscar, are solid operators and left wing Aaron Thompson has shown real pace without finding the room to fully show what he can do. He could be their secret weapon.

The controversy surrounding the sending off of their number eight Conor Gilsenan in the 10-9 semi-final edging of St Mary's has left a sour taste in the mouth. The sanction remained without a suspension to underpin the decision. Strange, very strange!

It will fuel the fire for coaches and players alike on both sides. Then again, the idea that greater motivation is required is about as likely as the end of the world arriving on St Patrick's Day. Of course, for the vanquished, it will seem just so.

Verdict: St Michael's.

Clongowes Wood (Probable): S MacAuley; O O'Suilleabhain, N Jones, G O'Suilleabhain, A Thompson; D Quirke, D O'Meara; E Byrne, E Lewis, I Prendiville, T Beirne, R Hynes (capt), S Burke, N McCarthy, C Gilsensan.

St Michael's (Probable): C Diamond; M Corballis, A Kelly, M Craig, D Egan; C Marsh, L McGrath; K Duffy, F Barry, D Reynolds, S O'Connor, E McMahon (capt), D Leavy, C Kenna, P Dix.

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