courtesy of RTE
What a difference 12 months make.
This time last year Ireland had a Six Nations title, while Leinster, whose players make up the bulk of the national side, had the Heineken Champions Cup in the bag and were on their way to a Guinness Pro14 title.
So Saturday’s showdown at Celtic Park in Glasgow represents the last chance for many of the players to avoid a complete wipe-out of the trophy cabinet.
As much as the players will talk about tight margins deciding matches, the defeats to England, Wales and Saracens hurt more for the manner than the scoreline, i.e. the outcome was obvious long before the final whistle.
For the sake of Irish rugby, as it approaches full World Cup countdown mode after this game, a win is badly needed to boost confidence levels.
Because if the defeats listed above came down to physical batterings, the Warriors present a different challenge and the vista of getting beaten in a more cerebral manner would almost be soul-destroying.
The threat to the reigning champs comes from Glasgow’s imaginative running and kicking game.
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The 2015 winners posted seven tries in the 50-20 demolition of Ulster, who were admittedly poor in the extreme, in the Scotstoun semi-final with some excellent link-up between forwards and backs doing the damage.
The heads-up style of rugby was what Ireland sorely missed in the Six Nations and with out-half Adam Hastings pulling the strings and Exeter-bound Stuart Hogg always in the thick of things, Leinster will have their hands full.
In some ways Glasgow’s semi-final performance was similar to how Scarlets unpicked the Leinster defence in their 2017 semi-final. Before they knew it that game had slipped from their grasp.
Captain Sexton and team-mates enjoyed the captain’s run yesterday
Leo Cullen has had fair warning.
“Leinster have to play a physical confrontational game and basically pound the hell out of Glasgow every chance they get,” said Eddie O’Sullivan on the RTÉ Rugby podcast this week.
“The fact that it’s in Glasgow means that Glasgow will play with that extra bit of strut that we know they love to [show].
“If you let them do it they can beat any team in the tournament.”
Leinster did well to bounce back from the bruising Champions Cup final loss to Saracens to account for a poor Munster in the semi-final but face a different sort of beast in Dave Rennie’s side.
It’s not that Leinster’s backline has any obvious weaknesses it’s more that their forwards can set the tone, with a powerful and dynamic front row backed up by the work-rate of James Ryan and Scott Fardy in the second row.
Josh van der Flier was man of the match last day out and Jack Conan is arguably in the form of his career.
Keeping it tight early on will give them their best shot at retaining their trophy and claiming a sixth crown.
The sides met once already this season with Leinster suffering their only home defeat, 39-24, in April, albeit with Leo Cullen rotating many of the front-liners out of the starting XV ahead of the following weekend’s Champions Cup semi-final win over Toulouse.