With Sexton unavailable to play and coming off the back of poor display in Edinburgh last weekend, there is some reason for concern.
I think Ross Byrne has shown enough that he can fill in for Johny; he is accurate, not afraid of getting stuck into tackles, plays close to the gain line and makes good decisions under pressure. In many ways he is the perfect understudy, able to slot in without needing to vary anything around him.
Sexton brings ten years of experience at the top levels of professional rugby. Ten years! Has it been that long?
Leinster won their first trophy in Europe in 2009. Sexton was playing second strings to Felipe Contepomi, now back in the Leinster locker room as a coach. His big break came when Felipe was injured in the semi-final, the epic game in Croke Park against another Irish rival: Munster.
Sexton came on after just half an hour and his first task was to kick a penalty. No problem, it sailed straight between the posts. The rest is history.
Can tomorrow’s game see the rise of the next great in the number ten jersey? He stepped in when called upon last season, notably in the Pro 14 final against Munster. This will be a big test for the young man.
|Cian Healy||1||Eric O’Sullivan|
|Sean Cronin||2||Rory Best (Captain)|
|Tadhg Furlong||3||Marty Moore|
|Scott Fardy||4||Iain Henderson|
|James Ryan||5||Kieran Treadwell|
|Rhys Ruddock (Captain)||6||Nick Timoney|
|Seán O’Brien||7||Jordi Murphy|
|Jack Conan||8||Marcell Coetzee|
|Luke McGrath||9||John Cooney|
|Ross Byrne||10||Billy Burns|
|Dave Kearney||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Rory O’Loughlin||12||Stuart McCloskey|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Darren Cave|
|Adam Byrne||14||Robert Baloucoune|
|Jordan Larmour||15||Michael Lowry|
|James Tracy||16||Rob Herring|
|Ed Byrne||17||Andrew Warwick|
|Andrew Porter||18||Wiehahn Herbst|
|Mick Kearney||19||Alan O’Connor|
|Dan Leavy||20||Sean Reidy|
|Jamison Gibson-Park||21||David Shanahan|
|Noel Reid||22||Luke Marshall|
|Rob Kearney||23||Angus Kernohan|
Ulster have their own share of injury woes, but the core of their Irish squad members, Best, Henderson and Stockdale, are all fit and available.
Expect Iain Henderson in particular to be a thorn in Leinster’s side as he interferes with our line outs, makes huge hits and causes trouble at the ruck. He has struggled with injury a little this season, but appears to be fully fit for tomorrow.
We see the return of a few Leinster heroes tomorrow. Jordi Murphy and Marty Moore, both regular Leinster starters at their peak, moved to the North to chase extra game time. It was a shrewd move and has benefitted both province and the players.
Murphy in particular is looking like the extra game time is bringing the best out of him. It will be hard to watch him try to beat us; he packs an awful lot of punch.
The back row battle will tell a lot about how this game goes. Against Saracens in the same fixture last year and at the quarter final stage, Leinster were clinical in the break down area, clearing out rucks incredibly fast and creating the momentum needed to keep the scoreboard ticking.
We haven’t seen much of that fluidity in recent months – test matches are played at a much faster pace with bigger hits that seem to suppress or stifle the game. A strong performance from Ruddock, O’Brien and Conan is required; if we play at pace, with fast ruck ball, we will beat Ulster.
Is there any advantage to Leinster as the home team? Probably not. I expect there to be almost equal amounts of each set of supporters, with the neutrals as usual supporting the underdogs. That’s just a part of life being champions. Leinster supporters just need to be vocal.
A tea time kick-off is ideal. No doubt there will be plenty of Guinness and Heineken drunk or spilled in the lead up to the match. European cup games bring a carnival atmosphere to town and it will be a pleasure to welcome the Ulster fans to Ireland’s rugby home.
I think Leinster are going to win. The track record is hugely in our favour and on paper it looks straightforward. The bookies are giving the spread at 13 points but there may be better bets to look at.
There should be scores tomorrow. With strike runners on both teams, Stockdale and McCloskey for Ulster and Larmour and O’Loughlin for the home team, there will be line breaks resulting in tries for both teams. At 5/6 Paddypower will take bets on there being 50 points scored. Might be worth taking a look at.
If you believe it will be a close game take Leinster to win by 1-10 points which is at 13/5 at the moment.
It is sure to be an exciting game with or without a gamble. Enjoy yourself if you are attending.