Ireland v New Zealand JWC Play Off 3rd/4th Place

Ireland will play in the third/ fourth place play off tomorrow afternoon after they lost to England and New Zealand lost to France for the 2nd time in this year’s renewal in the semi-finals.

 Ireland lost out 31-20 and after not having a final group fixture owing to poor weather on the final day of pool play saw Ireland v Australia chalked off and both sides awarded two points and that was enough to see Ireland through to face England in a second successive semi-final at this age group.

New Zealand were beaten by France in the pool phase and they also defeated them in the semi-finals last week. Ireland have made a number of changes to the XV which sees Hugh Gavin and Finn Treacy team up in midfield. Jack Murphy stays at 10, Steve Smyth is in at hooker.

 Ireland will need to perform well up front to stand any hope of beating New Zealand and New Zealand for their part will want to end another campaign in winning fashion. Jonno Gibbes who coached with Joe Schmidt at Leinster leads the Under 20s and as I mention they will want to end the campaign in a positive way given the two losses to France in particular.

Ireland lost to England and unfortunately could not score in the 2nd half of the semi-final to help them see a way past a very physical England side led by Leicester Tiger Fin Carnduff. He saw game time at senior level with Leicester last season. He alongside Henry Pollock make up 2 thirds of a strong young back row in the mould of Hill, Back and Dallagio.

Ireland have a few men who saw senior action last season with Brian Gleeson, Ben O Connor getting game time with Munster in the URC in the early rounds. It is a chance for this young group to get a win over a strong nation at Under 20 level, they lost to them back in the 2016 JWC final in Manchester. It would be a great finish to the year if they could get the bronze medal.

The way this group has performed this year in commendable and a good finish would be fantastic. Some of these young men go onto full contracts with their respective provinces, others go into academies and more will go back to club rugby for next season.

Willie Faloon and his coaching team have done a good job keeping this team playing the open style seen under Noel Mc Namara and Richie Murphy over the past number of years. Time now to go after another big win at this JWC and end the campaign on a high note…

Some of this group will earn full international honours, more will play at provincial level and some will don there club colours at AIL level for years to come.

Grasp the nettle tomorrow and pick up a win over New Zealand which is still so saunth after even after a number of wins since the Irish women beat them at the 2014 Women’s World Cup in France.

Ireland v Georgia 2024 JWC Game 2

Ireland played their 2nd game at the Under 20 Junior World Championship against Georgia and after an intense battle, Ireland found a late score from replacement Finn Tracey to put them 20-16 in front with the clock well in the red, Jack Murphy kicked the extra two to see Ireland home 22-16.

Unlike the opener vs Italy, this was a game where Ireland were put under pressure and Georgia well in charge and will count themselves unlucky not to hold on for the win and they will agonise over two missed kicks in the 2nd half that would have pushed them clear and made it tough for Ireland to get back into the game.

Ireland have plenty to work on in the next few days with Australia on the final day of the pools next Tuesday. They will make a few changes and will look to tighten up at the set piece that like Italy, Georgia put under severe pressure and it will be a way for Australia to see can they work their way into the game after their own loss to Italy.

Georgia used a strong set piece to their advantage and earned numerous penalties along with putting the Irish line out under strain and they also used there ball carrying centres to great effect and this in turn yielded field position which put them in positions to attack Ireland who led 12-6 at half time.

Two tries from Steve Smyth and Hugh Gavin along with one conversion from Sean Naughton had Ireland in control but Georgia plugged away and kicked two penalties to make sure they were in touch at the half.

They came out in the second half and dominated territory and possession and kicked on and gained the lead 13-12 and then kicked another penalty to push further clear 16-12, Ireland fired back to come within one point 16-15. Georgia then missed two penalties that may have seen them far enough ahead to hold out for the win and made it only possible for Ireland to get a draw from the game with any late score they made have gotten.

As it was they managed the final moments in a fashion I have only seen from Ireland teams in the past few years. They stuck to the game plan and although I thought they might be better to try for a drop goal but they moved a tiring Georgian pack around and with genuine discipline in attack they worked the ball until they had the overlap and then they fired the ball out wide for Finn Tracey to gather and dot down in the corner to push them in front 20-16 with no time left for a Georgian reply, Jack Murphy added the extra two to seal a 22-16 win.

This game will remind this Irish side of how unpredictable this age group can be, one moment you can win with plenty to spare and then like yesterday another team can perform well and deserve to win but sport as we see regularly doesn’t do sentiment or deserved wins. Ireland will likely make a few changes and likely revert back to a more familiar 23 for the game against Australia next Tuesday.

It is all to play for in Round 3 of the pool for Ireland, Australia and Italy with Georgia the only ones who have nothing to play for on the last day of the pool….

Ireland v Italy JWC 2024

Ireland started there 2024 Under 20 World Championship with a 55-15 win over Italy in the DHL Stadium Cape Town. They were in total control of this contest barring early on when Italy scored 10 points to lead 10-3 inside the opening 20 minutes.

Ireland of course have a new head coach with Willie Faloon taking over from Richie Murphy who signed a two year contract to remain on as Ulster coach after an interim period. Ireland can call on plenty of experienced heads with a large number of players returning after last season’s run to the Junior World Championship Final saw them lose out to France on finals day.

Evan O Connell returns as captain and played his part in the big win over Italy who pushed Ireland all the way in Cork earlier in the year in the 6 nations with a late Sean Edogbo try seeing Ireland home, 23-22.

Ireland played an open brand of attacking rugby that has continued in this campaign after serving them so well under Richie Murphy and Noel Mc Namara. Ireland have played this open style and also they have a hard edge up front that has seen them claim famous away wins in France and England as well as a hard fought draw in the 6 Nations away to England back in March.

The one area that will concern the Irish management will be the scrum as Italy even in defeat gained a number of penalties from this part of the game and although with some changes in the Ireland scrum and also playing 20 minutes with only 14 men, losing two forwards to yellow cards.

Ireland managed to gain parity late on and earn a few penalties of their own. This will encourage the whole squad with Georgia next Thursday and Australia the following Tuesday. The attacking intent from the opening minute was refreshing to watch. Ireland went after Italy and scored tries with Sam Berman the Ulster bound centre scoring a hat trick.

There were a few rule changes that sees an altered shot clock where you now have 50 seconds to take a penalty down from 1 minute and conversion is now only 30 seconds rather than 90 as it was previously. It will be fascinating to see will these be adopted in many leagues or competitions in the new season from September onwards.

Ireland will need to clean up there discipline and shore up there scrum before facing Georgia on Thursday with a 1pm kick off time. It will be interesting to see what changes may happen as the Irish coaches have said they will make changes through the competition and trust the 28 man squad.

A big win was the best way to start the Championship and they will want to do the same on Thursday vs Georgia. The game is live on RugbyPass TV, an arm of World Rugby unfortunately no Irish station has the rights this year….

South Africa Tour 2024

My XV to play South Africa

I will put on my selector hat and try and select the XV to play South Africa in Test 1 on Saturday July 6th with a 4pm kick off time. I will use the squad as selected by Andy Farrell and his coaching team.

15 Jimmy O Brien

14 Jordan Larmour

13 Robbie Henshaw

12 Bundee Aki

11 James Lowe

10 Jack Crowley

9 Conor Murray

8 Caelan Doris

7 Josh Van Der Flier

6 Ryan Baird

5 Tadgh Beirne

4 Joe Mc Carthy

3 Tadgh Furlong

2 Dan Sheehan

1 Andrew Porter

16 Ronan Kelliher

17 Cian Healy

18 Oli Jager

19 Peter O Mahony

20 Nick Timoney

21 Craig Casey

22 Sam Prendergast

23 Garry Ringrose

I will also select a different 23 to play in the first Test using the whole 35 man squad rather than just the usual suspects.

15 Jimmy O Brien

14 Calvin Nash

13 Jamie Osbourne

12 Stuart Mc Closkey

11 Jacob Stockdale

10 Ciaran Frawley

9 Caolan Blade

8 Nick Timoney

7 Peter O Mahony

6 Cormac Izuchuwku

5 Joe Mc Carthy

4 James Ryan

3 Oli Jager

2 Rob Herring

1 Tom O Toole

16 Ronan Kelliher

17 Andrew Porter

18 Finlay Bealham

19 Cian Prendergast

20 Josh Van Der Flier

21 Conor Murray

22 Sam Prendergast

23 Stuart Mc Closkey

There is my attempt at selecting two different XV’s for the first game v South Africa on Saturday week…

URC Semi Finals Review 2024

The Bulls will play Glasgow Warriors in the 2024 URC Final in South Africa on Saturday evening at 5pm or 4pm for those of you in South Africa…. I think on the balance of the way yesterday’s games went we have the right and deserved pairing in this season’s URC Final.

The Bulls were full value for the 25-20 win at home to Leinster and this will be another bitter pill to swallow for Leinster as it’s another loss in knock out rugby and that becoming all too familiar to this group of Leinster players.

Leinster will bullied up front and although it was a tight score line, The Bulls will know they have plenty in the tank for the Final on home soil next Saturday. The availability of Willie Le Roux will be important as he was a key factor for the Bulls helping Johan Goosen pull the strings.

The forward battle was won by Bulls and that will defiantly concern Andy Farrell as well as Leo Cullen. Cullen and Nienbar will go back to the drawing board over the summer and with Tyler Bleyendaal coming on board to take over as backs coach from Andrew Goodman who steps up to Ireland taking over from Mike Catt.

The review of the year will be hard to stomach but Leinster have the quality to get back onto the winners podium. They will need to rediscover there spark in attack that has been lost in the last few months and need to slowly move away from the physical up and at them approach.

They will have fresh eyes on the attack with Bleyendaal coming in add to that they will have RG Snyman and Jordie Barrett as the big money signings for the 2024/2025 season. It will take time to recover from yesterday and unfortunately or fortunately in some cases several men from yesterday will need to dust themselves off quickly as the tour to South Africa looms large.

Leinster have questions to answer after another year without a trophy, I know a trophy is not always assured in professional sport but Leinster compete at the top table every year and losing in the knock out phases has become a habit is winning of course. They will look to the two defeats in South Arica as key moments in the URC campaign.

For Leinster, time now to review the year and take a few weeks off as squad, some will go on holiday and family time and more will decamp to Dublin to prepare for the two Test tour of South Africa in July with tests on Saturday the 6th and 13th.

Munster will wonder what happened yesterday, Glasgow had to play 20 minutes with 14 men and all Munster managed in that period was 3 points from Jack Crowley’s boot. Munster looked on edge during the game and struggled to find ways in and the line out again faltered when it needed to be on point. To that end, Glasgow came here and disrupted Munster in very similar fashion to last season which saw Munster go away from home and beat Glasgow 14-5.

Are the current Munster squad happier playing away from home rather that Thomond Park, the pressure seemed to tell on them yesterday at vital moments. The half back pairing of Casey and Crowley didn’t perform to the level that they can and that was compounded by poor work at the breakdown and lack of support for the man in possession on multiple occasions.

Poor execution was another Achilles heel and the opening try from Kyle Steyn was after Antoine Frisch had delayed his pass to Alex Nankivell and he knocked the ball on and Kyle Steyn snaffled it up and raced clear to put the Warriors on the board. There other try from Seb Cancelliere was created from a break from Sione Tuipulotu and he broke the Munster defence and in turn put Huw Jones away on the outside and his acceleration away from Simon Zebo and Mike Haley put them 12-3 up with George Horn adding the extra two to put the 14-3 up after 50 minutes.

 Munster managed to create a strike move of their own that saw good clean fast hands with Coombes, Snyman, Loughman and after a quick ruck saw quick hands from O Mahony and Casey to put Frisch in the corner. Crowley added the extras to leave the score 14-10 with plenty of time left on the clock.

Munster couldn’t find the score to sneak ahead and a late George Horn penalty pushed Glasgow 7 clear. Alex Nankivell saw red for coming in at the side of a ruck under the posts and making contact with George Horn’s head.

Munster did manage to create one final chance in the last two minutes from a line out, they set up a maul and RG Snyman tried to get an offload away to John Ryan but the prop didn’t hold the ball and with that Glasgow saw out the final moments and Tom Jordan kicked the ball into the stands to see Glasgow into the 2024 URC Final.

Munster will need to take time like Leinster to review the season as a whole where a draw and loss in Europe at home didn’t help the cause and they will look back on yesterday with genuine regret.

For a number of Munster players it was bon voyage as Simon Zebo will retire, Joey Carbery will move to Bordeaux, RG Snyman will make the short trip east to join Leinster. Munster will welcome Thakkier Abrahams, Diarmuid Kilgallon and Tom Farrell ahead of the new season. Also a number of young players will move into the senior Munster squad on varied contracts.

We have on the balance of the semi-finals the right final, all the best to Glasgow and The Bulls next Saturday….

URC Semi Finals

It is URC semi-finals time, with Leinster playing Bulls in South Africa and Munster are on home soil in Limerick to take on Glasgow Warriors. This will be an intriguing set of games with all 4 sides laying claim to be the 2024 URC winners.

Leinster go down to South Africa to Loftus Versfeld to take on a Jake White coached Bulls side. The Bulls came up here previously and beat Leinster in the RDS. Leinster will be fired up after another defeat in the Champions Cup Final in London back in May.

They will know this is a last shot at a trophy for the 23/24 season, they last won the URC in 2021 and will be hell bent on trying to make another final with the added incentive of Croke Park being a possible venue for the Final if they defeat Bulls and Glasgow beat Munster in Thomond Park.

Leinster have gone with a powerful side with Garry Ringrose back in 13 shirt with Robbie Henshaw reverting to the 12 jersey, a first time since January that Leinster can select their main pairing at centre. Ross Byrne is picked at 10 with Ciaran Frawley covering out half from the bench.

The Bulls will know they have the chance to put Leinster out of another URC knock out phase and if they do that coupled with a Munster loss in semi-final 2, they will have home advantage in next week’s Final.

For 3 of the four sides, that carrot of home final advantage is a distinct possibly so that will drive them on along with the hope of making another Grand Final. Munster won the Grand Final on South African soil last season 19-14. They won that day with a late converted John Hodnett try.

Leinster have it all to do, recent history is not with them in terms of winning finals but they have the squad to do the needful in South Africa tomorrow afternoon. The Bulls won’t roll over and make it tough and they have shown they can score tries from all angles and can match teams up front also. Leinster have gone 5/3 on the bench with Luke Mc Grath, Jamie Osbourne and Ciaran Frawley covering the back line.

The Bulls have the power up front as I say and will look to a strong driving maul to help them past Leinster. The Bulls also have the back line to punish any slip up in the Leinster defensive set up. They have gone 6/2 on the bench and will unload a stacked bench to hopefully see them through.

Munster have earned the right to be at home thanks to finishing the season in first spot and will have home advantage in the Final if they get passed Glasgow. They have spoken of doing it on home soil for all the supporters who could not get to South Africa last season.

This semi-final will have plenty of needle due to Munster’s win in a tight semi-final in Glasgow last season. That coupled with some really tight battles in recent years with usually only a score or 2 between the teams.

Munster will know that home advantage is only part of the story and they will need to perform with impact from the bench being crucial. Time for Munster to stand up and be counted and defend the crown hard won last season.

Semi-final 1 is a tight one to call and will go down to the wire, home advantage will be crucial and with that I think The Bulls may cause a shock and put Leinster out with only a score between the sides.

Semi Final 2 is another tight affair and after last season’s game where Munster got through winning 14-5. I fully expect the game tomorrow to follow a similar pattern but Munster look well placed to get to another Grand Final.

My paring for the 2024 Grand Final will be Munster vs Bulls in Thomond Park…. Let’s see if my prediction is correct. Bring on two good quality semi-finals….

Quarter Finals URC 2024

It is quarter final time in the URC with three Irish provinces in action, Munster face the Ospreys in Thomond Park at 7.35pm this evening. Tomorrow will see Leinster take on Ulster in The Aviva Stadium with a 5pm kick off.

In the other quarter finals, Benetton take on the Bulls and the Stormers play host to Glasgow Warriors. All 8 teams have their sights set on the 2024 URC title. Munster will look to make home advantage count and make it to back to back semi-finals. The Ospreys made the last 8 after defeating Cardiff last weekend and edging out the Lions who looked to have had 8th place locked in.

Toby Booth has the Ospreys playing good rugby at the minute and will have no fears about tonight’s trip to Limerick. They have nothing to lose and plenty to gain by winning this evening. The Ospreys last trip to Limerick was a heavy loss and Munster beat them in the regular season back in March.

Both teams will be without key men like Adam Beard and Tom Ahern through injury but both sides will look towards the replacements to see will those men come in and do a job for their respective teams. As I mention the Ospreys come here with no fear and that makes them dangerous prospect.

It should be an open contest and if the weather holds up we should see both sides playing attacking rugby through the 80 minutes. Munster will want to kick on from the way they ended last week’s game against Ulster and the need to start this game sharper than last week in crucial.

There are a few changes from last week where Munster will have Tony Butler covering 10 and welcome Mike Haley back into the 23. John Hodnett comes into the side at 7. Like last year, Munster will need to grasp the nettle and though they know that it is home comforts all the way if they can negotiate the knock out stages of the URC.

That particular fact is secondary of course and they will need to take it game by game. Thankfully they have been here in recent times and one hopes they have the bank of knowledge stored to help them through any tough moments. It will be close but I think Munster will sneak through by more than a score….

Ulster go the Dublin with memories fresh of that recent last gasp win in the RDS. Leinster will know it is last chance saloon for the season in this game and with that brings extra pressure. Yes Leinster have been here many times but the last trophy to cross the threshold in Leinster HQ in UCD was the URC trophy in 2021 and with that the pressure only ramps up with each passing season…

 Ulster are in bonus territory with a new coaching set up led by Richie Murphy who signed a two year deal to lead Ulster into next season and beyond. Ulster will be buoyed by their performance for large parts of the game in Thomond Park. They also know how to beat this Leinster group beating them twice in league action this year.

Like tonight’s game, there will not be much either way with most likely only a score in it and I just fancy Ulster to complete the hat trick of wins over Leinster and get to the semi-finals to take on either Benetton or the Bulls next week….

As for the other two quarter finals, I can see Glasgow and the Bulls coming through to fill the other two semi final places….

Leinster – London’s Calling

Leinster will play Toulouse in this season’s Champions Cup Final after a tight semi-final win over Northampton Saints in Croke Park winning 20-17. Leinster had full control of this contest on the scoreboard as well as the pitch as they led 20-3 going into the last 20. Northampton found a way back scoring two tries late on to give Leinster a nervy last few minutes.

Leinster will need to sift through the game and come up with a solution as to why they almost blew a 17 point lead in the final 20 minutes. It was a strong showing from Leinster with James Lowe scoring a hat trick of tries to help see them through.

The thing for Leinster over the next few weeks is about coming up with a game plan that will help stem a flowing Toulouse as they showed yesterday that they will score tries at will and they will also give you chances too which Leinster will have noted.

Leinster will be hopeful that Gary Ringrose and James Ryan will be back with them and fit before the end of the season. Jamie Osbourne and Ross Molony did a good job on Saturday but Leinster will be very hopeful to have a full deck to choose from come final time in three weeks’ time.

Over the next three weeks they will be fully focused on seeing out the last three rounds of the URC and consolidating there position in the table. Top spot has become a target for the teams immediately behind Leinster in this instance Glasgow and Munster currently. Leinster will need to finish strongly to top the URC and taking home advantage into the quarter finals in June.

Looking at where Leinster may need to change, will they keep Ross Byrne at 10 or give his younger brother Harry a chance over the next few weeks to put the pressure on his big brother to maybe force a rethink ahead of the Champions Cup Final. Ciaran Frawley is seen as a full back by Leinster given he filled in for Hugo Keenan on Saturday and in recent times also. Similar to Joey Carbery before his move south to Munster he was picked and played at 15 when involved in any Leinster 23 at that time.

Will they make changes in the second row and go with power with Jason Jenkins or James Ryan alongside Joe Mc Carthy, only time will tell that particular thing. Will Leinster opt for a 6/2 split over the usual 5/3. These are questions that Leo Cullen and his coaches will need to answer.

The battle at scrum half will be worth the entry fee alone with Antoine Dupont likely to face Jamison Gibson Park arguably both men are at the peak of their powers and both can lay claim to currently being the world’s best 9. They both like to play a high tempo, pace game which in turn means both back rows will be asked to create a platform of quick ruck ball.

The match referee will need to be on his toes for the occasion, The RFU will most likely provide the match referee although Nika Amashukeli did well in the Challenge Cup semi-final in Kingsholm and that performance should see him get the whistle in either final.

Toulouse will be looking for 6th trophy while Leinster will be looking to win Europe’s big prize for a 5th time. Both teams are there since day one and like there scrum halves could lay claim to being the world’s premier club team. Saturday May 25th will help us make that argument one way or the other….

The Tottenham Stadium in North London is the ideal location for an out of this world final pairing. Let’s hope that the teams will serve up an attacking brand of rugby that all rugby followers can be happy with. We have three rounds of the Top 14 and URC to navigate before this season’s Champions Cup final at 2.45pm on Saturday May 25th.

The FA Cup Final is also scheduled for that afternoon so that is another interesting side show that people need to be keep an eye on because EPCR may be asked to shift there kick off time from 2.45pm. It may not come to pass that either final will be shifted from there stated kick off times but still one to keep in mind….

Leinster – Day of Destiny

Leinster head for GAA HQ to play Northampton Saints at 5.30pm today. 15 years on from beating Munster on Jones Road.  Leinster have been in South Africa for the past 2 weeks on domestic duty with the majority of today’s 23 being left behind to prepare for today’s battle. 2 defeats on that SA trip won’t matter too much if victory is secured this evening.

Leinster have gone for the tried and trusted this evening with the so called heavy hitters returning to see can they find a way past a well drilled Saints side who look a different prospect this year with Lee Radford looking after their defence, that miserly defence will be need to stop a Leinster attack that has fired well in this year’s Champions Cup.

Leinster have found Europe a tough nut to crack since the 4th title was won in Bilbao in 2018. They have been beaten by La Rochelle in successive finals and looked odds on to beat them 12 months ago only for La Rochelle to come out in the 2nd half of last year’s final and take the fight to Leinster and nick victory from the jaws of defeat.

12 months on and Leinster find themselves in familiar territory of topping the URC and in the last 4 of Europe looking to try and conquer both competitions. They have come up short in the past few years and have made the right noises to say they will right the wrongs of the past few seasons.

Northampton have mentioned this week that the pressure is all on Leinster given where the game will be played but unfortunately for Northampton that particular thread is well worn as it was rolled out back in 2007 with Ireland and in 2009 when Leinster first played in Croke Park vs Munster.

Leinster know they are under pressure to win today because they have been so consistent in performance that they have contested many finals and semi-finals in the past 6 years since Europe was last conquered in 2018.

Pressure has not sat well on Leinster shoulders in recent times and today will be no different and maybe given the venue it will not sit easy today either. But for all that Leinster will relish the opportunity to reach the Champions Cup final in London on May 20th.

Northampton will come here full of life and will know they are well placed to take full advantage of any slip up by Leinster and if they smell blood in the water they have shown already this year they have the fire power and defence to match many sides.

With an English half back pairing of Alex Mitchell and Fin Smith they have the keys that are well capable of unlocking the Leinster door. It will be a full blooded affair with no quarter asked or given. Northampton got a history lesson on the significance of Croke Park in Ireland and what it means to the Irish public it was given by their strength and conditioning coach who is from Ireland.

To that end Leinster have Declan Darcy in their backroom staff and he was with Dublin footballers for the last number of years and was a valuable resource to Leinster in recent weeks in the build up. Leinster will be in the Aviva Stadium and Croke Park next season owing to RDS undergoing a well need facelift so Leinster will split their time between Ballsbridge and Jones Road next year. No better way than to start there short term residency then beating Northampton Saints and going on to face either Harlequins or Toulouse in London on May 20th….

Leinster Croke Park Bound

Leinster are in the Champions Cup semi-finals and will face Northampton Saints in Croke Park on Saturday May 4th. They reached the last 4 after dismantling La Rochelle in The Aviva Stadium. That result did the necessary to dispel any myths surrounding the current Leinster squad. They did that without Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Charlie Ngatai all of whom missed out through injury.

That tells you that the squad is brimming with quality. They will now want to go one step further than the past few seasons and beat an in form Northampton Saints side who dispatched Munster and The Bulls in recent weeks. Leo Cullen and Jacques Nienaber have dovetailed wonderfully in recent months since the South African’s arrival after the RWC.

Leinster are in pole position to put a 5th star on the famed blue jersey even though Northampton, Harlequins and Toulouse will have plenty to say on that matter over the May bank holiday weekend. Leinster will travel to SA for a two week trip in the URC and will most likely mix and match the squad that will go on tour. In previous seasons they have used it as a breathing ground for the new generation who are in and around the squad on a yearly basis.

They lead the URC and have cushion going into the two games and as I mention there will be plenty of young talent given the chance to shine with a small number of senior guys who may require game time coming into the crunch period of this season.

15 years on from defeating Munster in Croke Park 25-6 in the last European semi-final to be played at the home of the GAA, Leinster won’t face Irish opposition this time round  instead they will play a Phil Dowson coached Northampton Saints side who are playing some quality rugby domestically and in Europe.

Croke Park is in use as the Aviva Stadium is now out of bounds until after the Europa League final which is being staged in Dublin. Leinster will have a few weeks to see can they sell Croker out like they did with the Aviva in recent years in European action.

It will be tricky to get a full house I feel as the opposition isn’t an Irish side although it is a European semi-final and plenty of casual rugby and sports fans may make the trip to see what Croke Park is like to host another sporting event. I was there in 2009 to see the previous semi-final and although Munster were beaten on the day it was still an occasion to be savoured and remembered.

Plenty has been spoken in the last couple of weeks regarding Croke Park as a venue for a rugby game give the pitch dimensions and how far back the crowd will find itself and that comes from an ex Leinster player who played that afternoon in 09, Luke Fitzgerald. Leinster were stuck really once the Aviva was ruled out of the equation and given that Croker will be free on that weekend it was a no brainer….

It will be another special occasion for all involved with Leinster Rugby, both playing staff and backroom staff. It is not that often that the gates at Jones Road are thrown open and Leinster will want to make sure that this trip to GAA HQ will be as memorable as it was in 2009.