Palla Ovale makes up one half of the Whiff of Cordite Rugby Blog. He’s been a Leinster season ticket holder for the last six seasons. The blog has been running since May 2011, so this was their first full season.
Leinster have now lost three Finals in a row – two at home to Ospreys and one away to Munster. It’s not the greatest habit to be getting into, and this year they’ll be really determined to go one better and finally win the competition for the first time since 2007/8. After playing so much good rugby last season and topping the table by ten points, losing the Final to a late try was spirit-crushingly disappointing. The players looked utterly gutted.
Whatever about winning the Final, it’s hard to see how they can improve on last year’s consistency of performance. They won 18 of 22 games (19 of 24 including the Play-Offs), losing just three games in the regular season, and of course, the Final too. One of the many achievements of Joe Schmidt is the style in which the team play, whoever is on the pitch.
Whether it’s the first team or a collection of reserve players during the international window, they always endeavour to play the ‘Leinster way’. Hopefully we’ll see the continued development of more good young players this coming season, but winning as many games as last year will be a challenge.
The other big challenge will be overcoming those pesky Ospreys. Of the four games Leinster lost last year, three were against them. The worry is that they’ve found a way of playing that Leinster find hard to get the better of, with Jason Tipuric particularly effective around the breakdown, and that other sides might cotton on to it. They’ll be up there with Munster as the team Leinster will really want to put one over on this year.
In terms of playing personnel, there are a few names to look out for. Last season, we saw a breakthrough season for Ian Madigan. This year he’ll be something of a known quantity, so how he copes with that will tell us just how good he’s going to be. Two names worth watching closely are Andrew Conway and Dominic Ryan. Both missed a lot of action through injury last year, but this year is a big opportunity for both of them. Ryan is a hard-tackling flanker and Conway is an exciting broken-field runner who can play wing or full-back. Let’s hope they can stay injury-free.
Leinster’s long-standing problem area is the second row. Brad Thorn has gone back to Japan, so it remains to be seen how they’ll cope without him. Devin Toner had a good season last year, and looks ready to become a first-team pick. Leo Cullen has been a great captain, but can he go for another season as a starter? Leinster probably need at least one of the supporting cast of Damian Browne, Mark Flanagan and new boys Tom Denton and Quinn Roux to take a big step up.
So all in all, the message is: keep up the great rugby no matter how cold and who’s playing. And please, please, can we beat the Ospreys and win the RaboDirect PRO12 Final this year? Another lost Final would be hard to take.
Best addition to your side? None of Leinster’s new signings are particularly well known, but Tom Denton arrives from Leeds Carnegie with a lot of rugby under his belt for a young lock, and a decent reputation. He might be a dark horse.
Opening day prediction? Leinster always lose their first game of the season, so I see no reason why it will be any different away to Scarlets this year.
Overall season prediction for your side? Leinster to win the RaboDirect PRO12!
Other predictions? An inconsistent season for Munster, two Welsh teams in the Play-Offs, Zebre to finish bottom and with Tim Visser playing international matches this year, someone else might get a chance to break his monopoly on the top try-scorer award.
Who's going to win the RaboDirect PRO12? Leinster!
Palla Ovale is one half of the Whiff of Cordite Blog