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Published: 10:49 | 22/5/19

The Front Row: PRO14 Showdown

The curtain falls on the 2018-19 domestic rugby season this Saturday as Leinster take on Glasgow Warriors in the PRO14 final at Celtic Park. It promises to be an exciting finale to what has been a fascinating campaign brimful with attacking rugby.

The PRO14 has been superb this season. All sides have looked to spread the ball wide and play attacking rugby which has made for a very entertaining campaign. The two conference winners – Leinster and Glasgow – meet in the final this Saturday (LIVE on eir sport 1 from 5.30pm). It’s a fitting finale as they are unquestionably the two best sides in the tournament and it’s hard to pick a winner between them. We should be in for a cracking game with possibly just a bounce of a ball in it come the final whistle.

Everyone was talking about a possible Champions Cup hangover for Leinster heading into their semi-final with Munster at the RDS on Saturday. Would they be able to put the disappointment of the previous weekend behind them and could Munster take advantage of having an extra week to recover following their quarter-final win over Benetton a fortnight ago?

The answer was ‘yes’ and ‘no’ – Leinster were able to recover from their Champions Cup final misery, while Munster couldn’t take advantage of the extra week off. After a very tight first half, Leinster twice breached the Munster line and won quite easily by 24-9 in the end.

Johann van Graan’s side had just three Joey Carbery penalties to show for their considerable efforts which is a bit of head scratcher considering that they had a considerable amount of possession and competed well in the set-piece. Their failure to make any inroads into the Leinster defence (they failed to conjure a single line break in the entire game) was ultimately the difference as the home side, by contrast, ran more imaginative lines which allowed them to punch through the gain line time and again.

Bitter pill

It will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Munster faithful as their team’s silverware drought continues into a ninth season. Looking back on this campaign, it’s hard to know how close they really came to breaking that run. The plain truth is that they simply weren’t good enough in a couple of big games – last Saturday at the RDS being just one example. But to call them ‘toothless’ and ‘clueless’ as some pundits did in the wake of what was undoubtedly a disappointing defeat is simply unfair. Munster have come a long way this season, but they had a lot of ground to make up in the first place. Van Graan is leading them in the right direction, although not everyone is happy with the pace of their progress.

There is no doubt that the close season will be a time of flux at Thomond Park as the province looks ahead to the next chapter. The departure of Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones was possibly inevitable anyway as van Graan looks to shape his own coaching team, but two semi-finals, a repeat of last season’s achievements, is not quite enough for a club of Munster’s stature. Personally, I feel they played far better rugby this campaign than last but, without silverware, that may not be enough to keep van Graan out of the last chance saloon heading into next season.

For Leinster, meanwhile, even if they do retain the PRO14 title, there will be much to ruminate upon over the summer. The business of blooding new talent continued successfully with close on 60 players used during the campaign. However, their failure to secure a record fifth star on the blue shirt will hurt for quite a while to come following their defeat to Saracens in a game that they could so easily have won if they had taken their chances. It takes a lot to get to a Champions Cup final and they will rue the fact that they let it get away with small errors and poor decision-making at crucial times.

They will be looking to make some amends this weekend by beating Glasgow and retaining the PRO14 title for the first time since 2014. However, Glasgow will be slight favourites as they have ‘home’ advantage and have been in scintillating form of late (including a five-try 39-24 victory over Leinster at the RDS last month). Without the injured Devin Toner, Leinster will have to dig deep once again if they are to finish the campaign on a high. It’s a lot to ask, but they have been there before and delivered the goods. Can they do it again?

Glasgow crush Ulster

Glasgow will have their tails up heading into the weekend following their 50-20 annihilation of Ulster at Scotstoun last Friday night. It was a game that Dan McFarland’s charges would have gone into with some hopes of causing an upset, but they were second best in every department against a rampant Glasgow outfit who ran in seven tries to three.

The result speaks of a wider issue in the game in this part of the world as it was an indication of the gap that exists between the very top teams and those below them. Let’s not forget that Glasgow were destroyed by Saracens in the Champions Cup quarter-final this year – take that into consideration and suddenly the gap to the very top seems extremely big indeed.

Ulster have had a good campaign, making the knock-out stages in both the Champions Cup and PRO14. They have played some exciting rugby, but are still some way off the pace in the race for silverware. They received something of a reality check on Friday night and have plenty of work to do ahead over the summer if they are to challenge again next season.

Glasgow are a fine side – dynamic in attack, strong in defence and very competitive at the breakdown, but they have adopted the annoying fist-pumping back-thumping style reminiscent of some English clubs (yes, I do mean Saracens) every time they win a scrum penalty or turnover. It’s a show of arrogance and triumphalism that is unnecessary and unwelcome in the modern game and to see it trickling down to the under-age set at school and club level is disappointing. It sets a very poor example. Let’s hope we don’t see too much of it this Saturday as, let’s face it, as a professional sportsman, if you need to do that sort of thing to give yourself and your team-mates a mental boost on such a big occasion, you’re probably not good enough to be there in the first place.....

Images: INPHO

eir sport is the host broadcaster for Rugby World Cup 2019 this September, October and November and you can see every single game LIVE right here with us. You don’t have to miss a single minute of the action! We are also the home of the PRO14 with 152 matches every season and up to six LIVE matches every week between now and 2021. Go to https://www.eirsport.ie/rugby for more details.

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