Well, 2013 ends with the Irish provinces looking in very good standing, overall. Leinster, Munster and Ulster are all top of their respective pools and the 3 also have the top 3 standings in the Rabo table. Plus, Connacht achieved their biggest win ever, when they defeated, Heineken giants, Toulouse.
Leinster are actually in a precarious position at the moment. While they are top of pool 1, they have the lowest points of any of the pool leaders (13) and their only chance of proceeding in the Heineken is to stay at the top of the pool.
The Heineken quarter-final spots are taken by the 6 pool leaders and the 2 runners-up with the most points. As is stands, Leinster have the lowest points tally of the 6 pool leaders and they even have lower points than Leicester who have 15 points and are 2nd place in their pool and Toulouse and Saracens who are joint leaders of their pool, both with 15 points.
POOL 1: Leinster 13 pts, Northampton 9
POOL 2: Toulon 15, Cardiff 13
POOL 3: Toulouse and Saracens both have 15 pts
POOL 4: Clermont 15, Harlequins 11
POOL 5: Ulster 18, Leicester 15
POOL 6: Munster 14, Gloucester 9
Leinster started off the Heineken tournament very well this season. They beat Ospreys away from home and denied them a losing bonus point. They also denied Castres a losing bp when beating them in the RDS.
Leinster’s biggest win came in their 3rd game, when they beat Northampton away, crushing the English province and managing to get the 4-try bonus (they actually scored 6 tries). This was a great result and Leinster looked set to remain undefeated when they faced Northampton at the Aviva.
Unfortunately, as so often happens, Northampton’s wish to avenge their defeat was stronger than Leinster’s wish to defend their record and the Irish province went down to a much tougher, more physical Northampton. Northampton even denied Leinster the losing bp.
(It was quite ironic that both Leinster and Northampton managed to play better and win the games AWAY from their home stadiums. Teams usually play better AT home in rugby, as in most sports.)
It’s imperative that Leinster win both their next games (Castres away on Jan 12th, Ospreys in the RDS on Jan 17th) if they are to have any chance of proceeding in the Heineken. Unfortunately, both games take place within 5 days of each other, leaving very little time to recuperate.
Leinster do have the easier itinerary, playing the stronger team at home (although that isn’t a guarantee of victory, as we’ve seen) which should make things a little less difficult.
Leinster are currently 3rd in the Rabo table, with 32 points (Table leader Munster have 39). They came unstuck in the last 2 games, only beating Treviso by a point, 21-20. Though the match did take place when their international players were facing the All Blacks which meant they were depleted.
Last week they lost to Edinburgh, 11-6, though the match took place after the Heineken double, when most of their top players were rested and they fielded a make-shift team. Still, Leinster are finishing the season not nearly as strongly as how they started it.
Leinster will face off against Ulster on the 28th at the RDS, in a joint Rabo/inter-provincial match. This will be a tough match for Leinster as Ulster are on a stronger roll at the moment, having won their last 5 games (Leinster have won 3 and lost 2).
Ulster are also higher in the Rabo table, though only by 1 point (33) and have more points in the Heineken (18). Leinster have the stronger overall team though. Ulster will be without Tommy Bowe, which is a big loss for them. Leinster won the last meeting between the 2 teams, 24-18.