Leinster can clinch top spot in Conference B at the start of March when they take on the Toyota Cheetahs at the RDS Arena on Friday (kick-off 7.35pm).
What’s at stake?
A bonus-point success, combined with Edinburgh’s defeat in Round 16, clinched a Guinness PRO14 Finals Series place for Leinster, and they can go one better with victory on Friday night. Any sort of victory would give them an unassailable lead at the top of Conference B.
However they take on a Cheetahs side who won the only previous meeting of the teams and are in desperate need of a win of their own. Currently sixth in Conference A, their own play-off hopes rest on a strong end to the season, starting in Dublin.
Team news (Leinster)
Leinster have chosen to make drastic changes to the side that beat the Isuzu Southern Kings last Friday with ten new faces in the team. Rhys Ruddock comes into the back row and takes on the captaincy, with a new front row of Peter Dooley, Bryan Byrne and Michael Bent.
Meanwhile in the backs, the only survivors are Ross Byrne and Conor O’Brien, with Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney among the new faces who should provide plenty of experience in the three-quarters.
Team news (Toyota Cheetahs)
The Cheetahs have gone with largely the same team that fell to defeat against the Scarlets last time out with just two changes, one in the backs and one up front. Tian Meyer comes into the side at scrum-half, taking on the captaincy duties as well from Shaun Venter, who drops to the bench.
The other change sees Reinach Venter come in at hooker, in place of Marnus van der Merwe. There is also a positional switch as Junior Pokomela switches to No.8, with Gerhard Olivier moving to the flank.
Leinster centre Rory O’Loughlin said: “It’s a nice way to finish this block. There’s been a smaller group around here for the last month and a lot of academy lads have got to train with us on a consistent basis. A good few of them have got to play and hopefully they will get another shot. I’m looking forward to hopefully getting a good crack in front of a home crowd.”
Key battle – Caelan Doris v Junior Pokomela
There are interesting match-ups all over the pitch, but a battle between two former age-group stars really stands out. Caelan Doris was unquestionably the star performer for Ireland Under-20s in 2018, and he has since got an opportunity with Leinster, despite the massive depth in the back row. He goes up against Pokomela, a former Baby Bok who was part of the South African team that finished fourth in the 2016 Junior World Championships. Now both senior pros, their match-up will be crucial to the overall outcome.
Key fact: Toyota Cheetahs won the only previous meeting between the teams, a 38-19 success in Bloemfontein in September 2017.
Did you know? Leinster are unbeaten at home this season with their only defeats in the league having come on the road at Scarlets and Glasgow Warriors.
Leinster: Dave Kearney; Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin, Conor O’Brien, Fergus McFadden; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Peter Dooley, Bryan Byrne, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock (c), Max Deegan, Caelan Doris
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Mick Kearney, Josh Murphy, Hugh O’Sullivan, Noel Reid, Barry Daly
Toyota Cheetahs: Louis Fouche, William Small-Smith, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Dries Swanepoel, Rabz Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Tian Meyer (c); Ox Nche, Reinach Venter, Aranos Coetzee, Walt Steenkamp, JP du Preez, Gerhard Olivier, Abongile Nonkontwana, Junior Pokomela
Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Charles Marais, Luan de Bruin, Sintu Manjezi, Marnus van der Merwe, Henco Venter, Rudy Paige, Shaun Venter
TV: At RDS Arena, Dublin, 7:35pm. Live on Premier Sports 1, Super Sport 1, eir Sport 1 and DAZN.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Wayne Davies (WRU)
TMO: Colin Stanley (IRFU)
Tries from Conor O’Brien, Adam Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin proved enough as Leinster Rugby beat Toyota Cheetahs 19-7 to extend their lead at the top of Conference B in Guinness PRO14.
The Irish province came into this game on the back of four straight Guinness PRO14 wins, while the Cheetahs had lost consecutive fixtures.
And the home side made it five in a row thanks to tries from O’Brien, Byrne and O’Loughlin, complemented by some robust defensive work in the second half.
An early try from Rabz Maxwane threatened to put pressure on the table toppers, but experience and game management secured the points for Leinster and guarantees them a home semi-final.
O’Brien opened the floodgates with a try after just ten minutes when he burst between two Cheetahs players to pierce the back line.
But Cheetahs hit back instantly when they seized on a loose ball to kick high up the field.
Maxwane flexed his athletic ability as he left three Leinster players in his wake to latch onto the ball and cross the line.
After a period of pressure, winger Byrne took advantage of some wonderful passing play from his Leinster side to jink inside his defender and power the ball home.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) March 1, 2019
Leinster started the second half on top, with the wingers threatening a fragile Cheetahs defence time after time.
But at the other end, the experienced Leinster defence stopped the visitors from taking advantage of their limited forays into offensive territory.
A foul from a scrum deep in the Leinster half gave Tian Schoeman the chance to reduce the deficit, but he scuffed high and wide in the rainy conditions.
As Cheetahs failed to take advantage after building up some rare pressure, it was Leinster who dominated the territory, only to be repelled by a seemingly dogged Cheetahs defence.
But eventually the breakthrough came as O’Loughlin found space down the left before latching onto his own excellent kick to make the score more comfortable for his side.
The final quarter saw ferocious tackles flying in from both sides as the two teams cancelled each other out – both in sloppy attacking play and committed defence.
Max Deegan exemplified this as he stole a Cheetahs lineout deep in the Leinster 22 to ward off a sporadic chance for the visitors.
Leinster were happy to go through their phases in an attempt to wear their opponents down, while Cheetahs’ kick-dominant strategy was rendered ineffective by the excellent positioning of the Leinster back line.
Late pressure threatened to secure a bonus point for the Irish team but they settled with the four to maintain their mammoth lead at the top of the conference.