Leinster have looked like the most complete team in Europe this season, now is the time to prove it.
Last season was a disappointing one for Leinster. Emerging from a few turbulent seasons they reached the semi-finals in both the league and the European Cup. Unfortunately, they fell short in both.
This year, just 3 short weeks give Leinster the chance to right those wrongs.
First up is the Champions Cup final, where a fourth star is the coveted prize. Then Munster a week later in the Pro14 semi-final. Followed by a potential final, which just happens to be in Dublin too.
With two huge games back to back (plus a possible third) it will be interesting to see the selection decisions that Leo Cullen makes. He needs to make some genuinely tight calls, while also balancing game time and squad cohesion.
Options create flexibility
With a number of absentees from the backrow recently, Leinster chose a combination of Scott Fardy, Jordi Murphy and Dan Leavy. That unlikely trio have delivered exceptional performances. Jack Conan is back from injury, but may well have to settle for a bench spot this week. He could, though, be deployed against Munster to carry hard and offer a more direct option.
The expected return of Luke McGrath gives the chance to select game-breaker James Lowe to replace the injured Fergus McFadden. The safe choice would see Jamison Gibson-Park backing up McGrath, with Jordan Larmour the likely winger in that scenario. But, I would take the risk of starting Lowe to face Teddy Thomas in an epic battle of the man-buns. What a mouth-watering clash that would be. Gibson-Park could be used against Munster, with Larmour having something to prove. However, if there are any doubts about McGrath I understand the safer choice.
Having the luxury of making changes will be very important, as the team will need to refocus for the Munster match. Leinster know from bitter experience how hard it is to deliver again the week after the Champions Cup final.
Outside of selection matters there are a number of intriguing subplots too
Johnny Sexton is going up against his old team. Racing have had some less than positive things to say about his time there, so a Sexton masterclass would be a fine way to put a full stop on that chapter.
Joey Carbery has seemingly come under pressure from Irish management to move to Ulster for an increase in game time. While he is understandably torn, winning the double would allow him to leave with a little more peace of mind.
Once again, the Leinster faithful get to say goodbye to Ireland’s greatest ever import – Isa Nacewa. On the occasion of his second retirement, he will get a resounding send-off, without a certain Brian O’Driscoll hogging all the limelight this time.
Then there’s the small matter of James Ryan, who is yet to lose a game of professional rugby. Winning the Grand Slam, Champions Cup and Pro14 without tasting defeat couldn’t be possible, could it?
Three short weeks. A trip to Bilbao, the visit of their fiercest rivals and two trophies on the line. What more could a fan want?
Author: Stephen Kavanagh
I love most sports, but rugby is my passion. Having retired from a long and underwhelming rugby career as a too short 2nd row, I can dedicate more of my time to watching and talking (endlessly) about it. I was encouraged to start writing about sport by my wife and friends. I think they had a vain hope that I would write more and talk less, how wrong they were.