The sun is shining, the evenings are long, and beer gardens across the country are filling up nicely. Now all you need is a belting bit of sport to use as an excuse to duck out of work on Friday and spend a weekend in the sun with a nice cold pint.
Luckily there are two monster Pro14 semi-finals to get your teeth stuck into. Whether a die-hard rugby buff or just a guy who needs an excuse to head to your local now the Premier League is over, here are six key talking points to get you through the weekend’s action.
1. Leinster’s Stats Make For Epic Reading
Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously coined the phrase, ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics.’ But you don’t need to know your British history to understand that’s often bollocks, and in fact stats can be fairly useful. With that in mind, prepare to pick your jaw off the floor when we recap some of Leinster’s statistics in the league this year and how they rank in the Pro14 in brackets.
- 3,277 carries made (1)
- 98% ruck success (1)
- 440 metres made per game (2)
- 503 defenders beaten (2)
- 89.9% tackle completion (2)
- 21 line-out steals (3)
- 89.8% line-out success (4)
So, what makes a successful rugby team? A cocktail of carrying more and turning over less than anyone else mixed with a rock-solid backline, topped with a sprinkling of skinning lads ought to do it. Sort out that slightly whiffy lineout and they’d be more or less unstoppable.
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2. But If There’s One Thing That Beats Stats, It’s A ‘Jinx’
A hoodoo is great bar talk fodder. Think Mayo’s All-Ireland curse or Liverpool’s chronic aversion to Premier League titles, it makes for some excellent pub jibes. And Leinster are no strangers to a jinx themselves.
They always struggle following a European Cup final. They've lost three of their four games following a Champions Cup showdown, with last year's wafer-thin victory over Saturday's opponents the only exception. Can the Red Army stick the boot in whilst Leinster are down from last week's bruising defeat to Saracens?
Surrendering a 10-0 lead in club rugby’s biggest game could leave Leo Cullen’s men with the kind of European hangover usually saved for the Sunday 6.45pm Amsterdam to Dublin flight.
3. Are Ulster Glasgow’s Bogey Team?
Ulster travel to Glasgow on Friday night in the first Pro14 semi-final and, despite the away side being the underdogs, they’ve put it up to the Glaswegians before. The Ulster men are one of the few Pro14 sides to boast a winning record against Glasgow, with a 52% strike rate in 33 games – including four wins in their last six head-to-head.
Glasgow’s 30-7 victory over Ulster in Scotstoun six weeks ago is fresh in the memory, but it could’ve been so much different. Ulster had been 0-7 up, John Cooney knocked on in the ruck when under the posts at 15-7 and Luke Marshall could’ve reduced the lead to 30-14 had he not fumbled the ball when already across the try-line.
It’s a lot of Coulda Woulda Shoulda (Celine Dion, 2003, thank you very much) but Ulster’s form isn’t as bad as that result suggests.
The stats suggest they’ll be up against it in Glasgow, but Dan McFarland’s side can cause plenty of trouble at the breakdown with Marcell Coetzee in flying form this season alongside the arrival of Jordi Murphy from Leinster.
4. Home Is Where The Heart Is
Home comforts are mint – hearty grub, local boozer with all your mates in around the corner, always milk in the fridge. It’s class. And for Glasgow, it’s no different.
In the last two Pro14 seasons Glasgow have won all 20 of their home games in the league – with a 13-28 defeat to Scarlets at this stage last year the only blip on their record. This year they’ve chalked up an almighty 376 points at home in the Pro14 (more than anyone else) and conceded just 143 – Leinster (117) and Scarlets (120) are the only teams with stingier defences. Which would certainly put the frighteners up an Ulsterman.
And the Warriors may not have to leave home at all (kinda). If Dave Rennie’s team get the right result this weekend, the final is within spitting distance down the road in Celtic Park. Advantage Glasgow?
5. Boss Hogg
Talking of tries in Glasgow, this game marks the last time Stuart Hogg will turn out at Scotstoun before the whippet packs his flip flops and heads down to Exeter. The one truly world class Scottish player in recent memory, Hogg will be absolutely clamming to sign off with a flourish after 9 years on the river Clyde.
The follicly challenged full back is actually without a touchdown for the Warriors since the 7th September. For a player of his obvious pedigree, he’s due a meat pie sooner rather than later and Ulster’s back three will need to be at the top of their game to stop him.
6. Would You Rather Tackle Nick Timoney Or A Brown Bear?
A talking point for the end of the night…
Timoney is 6ft 3in and almost 18 stone of pure Irish beef. A female brown bear averages out at around closer to seven foot and 24 stone, but Timoney is going to be quicker on his feet.
The Ulster flanker has made a total of 241 tackles in the Pro14 this term – more than any other player who will take to the field in either semi-final. Throw in 159 carries for 382 metres gained and you start to form a picture of what kind of animal this guy is.
After a few pints I might just take my chances with the bear…
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