Leinster take on Glasgow in the Pro14 Final in Celtic Park on Saturday. Off The Ball's Eoin Harte has picked five battles that will play a major part in deciding who ends the day as champions.
Rob Kearney vs Stuart Hogg
A major clash between the two fullbacks is in store in what could be their final game for both clubs. Kearney’s future is still up in the air while Hogg is heading to the Exeter Chiefs next season so both will be raring to put in a bit performance.
The two have faced off many times before for both club and country and will likely do so again later this year in the World Cup. Both certainly offer different talents, with Kearney’s excellence in the air and safe pair of hands his main selling point, while Hogg is famed for flashes of brilliance in attack.
Both have been key players for their sides for a long time so it could likely be an emotional farewell for the two club stalwarts. If Leinster play an aerial game Kearney could be the man who wins it for them but if it’s fast and open Hogg will surely exploit the gaps.
Johnny Sexton vs Adam Hastings
Hastings will have his work cut out for him going up against last year’s World Rugby Player of the Year but the young Scot spoke about how he was relishing the prospect of coming up against someone with so much experience during the week.
Hastings, the son of Scottish legend Gavin Hastings, has been in fine form in recent months and was pivotal in his side’s 50 point hammering of Ulster last weekend. While Sexton might not be playing up to his 2018 standards yet, he has been improving throughout the year.
Finals are nothing new for Sexton and there’s no doubt that he’ll be fired up after not starting in Leinster’s win over Munster. This will be Hastings’ first appearance in a final so it will be interesting to see if he can deal with the pressure that big occasions bring.
Cian Healy vs Zander Fagerson
It’s another battle between young and old as Healy, just fresh off of signing a new IRFU contract, comes against 23-year-old Fagerson who was named in the Pro14 team of the season.
While Fagerson hasn’t featured much for Scotland in recent times he’s put in plenty of impressive shifts for Glasgow as they rampaged their way to the final. Healy has rediscovered the form that saw him burst onto the scene about a decade ago and will be in confident this weekend.
The battle in the scrum could prove to be crucial this weekend as Leinster will surely look to exert their dominance in the pack. If Fagerson keeps the scrum steady it will provide his side with plenty of opportunities to show their attacking prowess.
James Ryan vs Jonny Gray
Arguably two of the best locks in the world lock horns on Saturday with both men remarkably consistent for both club and country. Both men’s stats are off the charts, with Jonny Gray famous for rarely ever missing a tackle at both international and club level.
Both are quite young, with Ryan still only 22 while Gray is 25, which is quite unusual for second rows. Both are relentless with ball in hand and in defence and have both assumed leadership roles in the two squads early in their careers.
Leinster are expected to have the upper hand in the forwards, with their back row in particular looking superior, but the second-row battle is looking to be too close to call.
James Lowe vs Tommy Seymour
Lowe was superb against Munster last weekend, with his late try just reward for a good all-round 80-minute performance. Tommy Seymour was no slouch in the semi-final either, scoring a brace of tries against Ulster.
Seymour also made 4 clean breaks at the weekend, so Leinster will want Lowe to keep an eye on the Nashville, Tenessee-born flyer. The Scot certainly has more international experience than the currently uncapped Kiwi winger but that won’t trouble Lowe who has plenty of final experience.
If Saturday’s game is an exhibition of open, free-flowing rugby, expect to see these two lads’ names on the scoreboard. Both are no strangers to the try-line and will be looking to add to their season tallies.
Kick off in Celtic Park is 6.30pm.
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