Few would argue that Leinster and Glasgow don’t deserve to be here in the final. A win for Leinster would be a fitting tribute to Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen, while a win for Glasgow would be a great boost for both the league itself and for the sport of rugby in Scotland. Leinster have the pedigree, Glasgow the tenacity, so who will lift the coveted trophy on Saturday night?
It took Leinster a while to get going against a fired up Ulster two weeks ago. You have to hand it to them though – even when they don’t play to their best, they still know how to get the win. That’s the sign of a great team. We all know the stats: they’re unbeaten at home this season, or indeed since since March 2013, this is their fifth successive final and their record against Glasgow, home or away (24 wins, nine losses, one draw), makes for depressing reading for even the most optimistic Warriors fan, especially considering Glasgow have only won once in their last 19 attempts on Leinster soil.
The departure of Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen will make it a very emotional occasion for both the team and the supporters as they take to the pitch for the last time. In truth, this could be the key factor this weekend. We saw how much it meant to everyone the last time BOD took to the field in a green jersey for Ireland, and it will be even more poignant the last time he takes to the field in blue. To send both Brian and Leo off with another winners medal would be a fitting tribute to two great servants of Leinster rugby.
It’s great to see Glasgow get to their first PRO12 final this year. I’ve been going to Scotsoun all season, and while the atmosphere is always great, it was on another level at the semi-final. To see the best part of 10,000 people erupt with joy at the final whistle of a rugby match in a town as football-obsessed as Glasgow was special. A win here for Glasgow would be a much needed shot in the arm for Scottish rugby and fully deserved for a team of players playing for the jersey and for each other as much as any paycheck.
Speaking of team spirit, it’s been widely reported that Stuart Hogg will not be playing for Glasgow which, if true, is a bit surprising but not totally shocking. Last season he was fantastic, but I’ve yet to see him reach those same heights since his excellent work on the Lions tour.
So what positives can the Warriors bring to this game? For starters, Glasgow are the form side and have the best winning record in the regular season with 18 from 22. They’re sitting on their best ever winning run at nine and counting, and they’ve also got the best defence in the league having conceded an average of just one try per match. They’re fourth in number of tries scored and they’ve lost to Leinster by just three points or less in their last two encounters at the RDS.
Ulster’s hunger against Leinster two weeks ago was palpable and nearly got them over the line. The Warriors have that very same hunger and are arguably a better side. This is their first major final of any kind and that can be either a very nervy or very liberating scenario. Leinster have no such concerns. They’ve been in this scenario many times and know exactly what is needed. The fact that they’ve lost so many PRO12 finals (four of the five they’ve contested) can be mitigated by considering they were more often than not winning the Heineken Cup the preceding weekend!
For Glasgow, if they can treat it as any other match, strike first and play as well as they have been recently then they can win this game. If, on the other hand, they fail to get a significant lead early on and let Leinster build a lead, then they will most likely lose. And while it’s true Glasgow are on a run of nine wins in a row, their last defeat was to – you guessed it – Leinster, and at this very same venue.
It’s a case of ‘Who has home advantage?’ versus ‘Who wants it more?’. Any other season the title of ‘Who wants it more?’ would probably go to Glasgow, but given that this is the last time we’ll see Leo Cullen or Brian O’Driscoll in a blue jersey, that has to go to Leinster too. I’d love Glasgow to win, but almost all logic points to Leo and Brian lifting the trophy on Saturday night. Leinster by 4
By John O’Brien (@tiptackler)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images