Sam is 17 and has been supporting Leinster since he was 6. This is his first blog, but has written match reports before. His best rugby moment was watching Leinster win the Heineken Cup in 2011 against Northampton.
For three consecutive years Leinster have reached the Final of the RaboDirect PRO12. For three consecutive years they have lost the Final of the RaboDirect PRO12. This stat makes irritating reading for Joe Schmidt’s charges, but the pain of losing these Finals have been numbed somewhat by Leinsters Heineken Cup successes in 2009, 2011 & 2012.
The strength in depth of Leinster’s squad is something to be admired, with at least two more than capable players available for nearly every position on the park. Despite this depth in most areas cover for the front row and finding a partner for captain Leo Cullen in the second row has become something of a problem area for the European champions. The front row, minus Cian Healy and Mike Ross, is certainly Leinster’s Achilles heel; we saw an example of this when the Leinster scrum was demolished by the Ospreys in the Final. They have signed Irish qualified prop Michael Bent from the Hurricanes in New Zealand to help provide cover for first choice Ross and he will battle for a place on the bench with Jamie Hagan. He is signed as a direct replacement for the Kiwi Nathan White, who moves west to Connacht after just a year at Leinster.
Leinster have struggled to find a suitable partner for Leo Cullen in the engine room ever since Nathan Hines was forced to pack his bags and move to Clermont. Brad Thorn was a magnificent short term acquisition but has moved back to his Japanese club, the Fukuoka Sanix Blues, after his 3 month loan spell with the province. They have helped bolster the ranks here with the signings of Irish qualified Tom Denton from Leeds and South African Quinn Roux from the Stormers.
They have also signed utility back Andrew Goodman from New Zealand on a one year deal. The best signing out of the lot would appear to be Quinn Roux as he looks set to bring some much needed South African grunt to the second row.
Leinster begin their campaign with a tricky trip to Llanelli to play the Scarlets. The last time Leinster ventured to the Parc y Scarlets they emerged 15-10 winners. This will be a tough opening round examination for last season’s runners up, but I believe they will begin the season with a 6 point win.
This Leinster side is littered with star players such as Isa Nacewa, Jonathan Sexton and Jamie Heaslip, to mention a few. Nacewa really is Leinster’s star man in this competition, as he assumes a massive leadership role when the Irish internationals are away for the Six Nations. Because of his consistent goal kicking and intelligent play I am tipping him to be Leinster’s top points and try scorer.
Such is the number of quality teams in this competition that it makes it hard to choose an overall winner. The Play-Offs have added a certain degree of unpredictability of who will come out on top after the regular season, as we have seen with Leinster finishing top and then coming up short in the Final last season and in 2010/2011. But I believe that the sheer quality and depth in Leinster’s squad will see them go all the way to lifting the trophy in May.