MARIETTE ADAMS looks ahead to the Pro14 semi-finals between the Glasgow Warriors and the Scarlets in Glasgow and the Leinster, Munster clash in Dublin.
GLASGOW WARRIORS vs SCARLETS
As two of the most entertaining sides in the competition, the clash between the Warriors of Scotland and the Scarlets of Wales should be a riveting affair.
Both teams have named international-laden lineups, but the defending champions – Scarlets – have been dealt a cruel blow after their talisman Leigh Halfpenny was ruled out due to a hamstring strain sustained against the Cheetahs in the semi-final qualifier.
His absence tips the balance of the aerial battle in Glasgow’s favour, with experienced pair Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell set to dictate in which areas the game is played.
The Warriors will want to give Russell – playing in his last home game for them – a perfect send-off.
They have been the leading team in the competition this season, chalking up the most wins (15), fewest defeats (five), most try bonus-points (12) and they have also conceded the fewest tries (38).
Something that could prove to be a leveler is discipline. While the Scarlets have been guilty of ill-discipline in their own half, the Warriors have been just as bad.
Both sides have to refrain from conceding kickable penalties in this crucial tie. Then again, neither of the two teams are fond of kicking at goal to build a score; they like to keep the ball in hand and play attacking rugby.
Scotsman John Barclay, who plays for the Scarlets after joining them from Glasgow in 2013, perfectly summed up the encounter in his column for BBC Sport: ‘Who’s favourite? That’s a hard one to call. We have pedigree as champions, but so do they. Playing expansive, off-loading rugby is in the DNA of both clubs. Glasgow want to throw it around and so do we. Playing the percentages doesn’t hold much interest to either of us. Nine months of matches and it comes down to this.’
Glasgow Warriors – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 George Horne, 8 Ryan Wilson (c), 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Jamie Bhatti
Subs: 16 George Turner, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Siua Halanukonuka, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Ruaridh Jackson
Scarlets – 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay 7 James Davies, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Rob Evans
Subs: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lewis Rawlins, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Steff Hughes
LEINSTER vs MUNSTER
This fixture could determine the destination of the title. With the greatest respect to the other semi-finalists and with no attempt whatsoever to dismiss their title credentials, the team that emerges as winners from this all-Irish clash should head into the final as favourites.
Leinster finished top in the Conference B standings to secure a home semi-final, but Munster – runners-up in Conference A – were only one log point adrift of their more-fancied rivals. But there’s a reason Leinster are favourites. With a total of 15 players from Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning squad in their match 23, Leinster are basically a Test team in disguise, much like the Jaguares.
Leinster are universally backed to progress to the final in a quest to add the league honours to the Champions Cup crown they won last week. Knockout matches are one-off occasions in which form dictate the outcome.
Munster were victims of Leinster’s excellence in the regular season, losing home and away against their bitter rivals. Counting in Munster’s favour, though, is the fact they enjoyed a bye last weekend while Leinster were engaged in a bruising Champions Cup final with Racing 92. The week off should give Munster a slight edge towards the latter stages of the contest.
Because they employ a similar playing style – a defensive, set-piece orientated approach, coupled with the ability to transition from defence to attack – it will make for a fascinating battle of wills.
One downer is that the RDS Arena was not sold out for this potentially epic showdown. Munster were allocated 4,750 tickets but because they failed to sell 1,000 thereof, the visitors were forced to sent it back to Leinster on Thursday.
Leinster – 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Isa Nacewa (c), 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 James Tracy, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Rory O’Loughlin, 23 Barry Daly.
Munster – 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jack O’Donoghue, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin.
Subs: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho