Preview: Pro12 Final

Date published: May 30 2014

Glasgow Warriors must overcome a daunting RDS record in Dublin if they are to rain on Brian O'Driscoll's farewell parade.

Glasgow Warriors must overcome a daunting RDS record in Dublin if they are to rain on Brian O'Driscoll's farewell parade.

The SRU are fond of reminding the media in almost every press release crafted in the bowels of Murrayfield, zipped out along the wires and broadcast into cyberspace that such announcements represent “an historic day for Scottish Rugby”. For once, they are right. This game is massive for Glasgow and carries even greater significance for the game in Scotland.

The Warriors have reached the play-offs three years in a row, but this is the first time Gregor Townsend's men have made the final. With a club record run of nine consecutive wins, a balanced squad and a tightknit group of players – despite Stuart Hogg's well-publicised absence – capable of tempering cavalier flair with pragmatic fortitude.

Indeed, this fine run of results, culminating in a thrilling 16-15 semi-final victory over Munster at Scotstoun a fortnight ago stemmed from a narrow defeat at Saturday's stadium – a cracking, open contest which the Warriors should arguably have won – way back in early March and the RDS remains one of just two Pro12 venues Glasgow have yet to conquer this season.

The performances of Tommy Seymour, Jonny Gray and Chris Fusaro caught the eye in the early stages of the campaign, before the likes of Finn Russell, Gordon Reid and Leone Nakarawa came to the fore as their quest for silverware reached its climax. This is a task the Warriors have warmed to.

But in their way stands a veritable European juggernaut, a Leinster side who haven't lost at home since March 2013, and whose resources, historical pedigree and reputation rank so highly above Glasgow's that even Gray would require the use of a step-ladder to lay a finger on them.

And while the rugby universe has been ensconced for the past week or so in showering Jonny Wilkinson with praise and adulation as he prepares to bid the game farewell, Dublin proffers its goodbyes to two of its most treasured sons on Saturday too as Leo Cullen and the great Brian O'Driscoll bow out.

As a supporter and lover of the game, I can hardly remember a time in professional rugby without Brian.

The Pro12 may be regarded by some in the European game as the ugly duckling of continental rugby, but one doubts O'Driscoll would have it any other way than playing his last match, a final, for his beloved Leinster in front of a packed and passionate RDS.

But enough of the romanticism. This is rugby, after all. And sure, Leinster had their sights trained on Europe's showpiece this season, but after Toulon's power-play put paid to their ambitions on the continent, retaining their domestic crown carries even greater significance.

O'Driscoll and his old mucker D'Arcy take on Alex Dunbar and Peter Horne in a midfield duel that will be decided by brains not brawn, while pivot Russell faces his greatest test yet in the RDS cauldron with a Leinster back-row capable of wreaking havoc at the breakdown and a certain Sean O'Brien poised to appear off the substitutes' bench.

It is surprising to note Geoff Cross' absence from the Warriors 23, but two Test props offer sturdy back-up to the less experienced starting duo of Gordon Reid and Jon Welsh in the front-row, while Fijian pair Leone Nakarawa and Niko Matawalu will inject spark and verve into proceedings from the bench.

Ones to watch:

For Leinster: Who else but O'Driscoll? The wily magician has a few ploys left in his bottomless bag of tricks, and it would take a braver man than I to bet against him making a telling influence on Saturday's final. Will it be a fairytale finale? I'm not so sure. But you can stake your bottom dollar BOD won't be leaving the stage quietly.

For Glasgow: 19-year-old sensation Gray is growing week by week from gangly teen to lynchpin lock, as he matures into a player Scotland will cherish and rely on for years. A strong carrier with better hands than his bleach-blonde elder sibling, he was significantly entrusted with the captaincy during the nervy closing stages of the semi-final triumph.

Head to head: This game won't lack for individual battles: Rhys Ruddock versus Rob Harley at the contact area, Al Kellock and Devin Toner in the air, Russell versus Jimmy Gopperth as game management carries such weight.

But the match will be won and lost up front, and in that regard, the tussle in the tight between Cian Healy and Jon Welsh is likely to prove crucial. Healy is one of Europe's best, worthy of a great Bill McLaren witticism when on the rampage, but his scrummaging too has come on leaps and bounds.

Welsh is less effective around the field, but excels in his bread-and-butter duties at the set-piece. He must at the very least hold his own.

Form: While the visitors have not lost since the 28-25 reverse at this ground nearly three months ago, and indeed beat the Dubliners at Scotstoun early on in the season, Leinster boast the most imposing home record in the Pro12, having not suffered defeat on their own patch in over a year.

Prediction: Of the three Northern Hemisphere finals taking place this weekend, this one is only just pipped by its Premiership counterpart as the toughest to call. The teams are incredibly well-matched, and though form points toward the visitors, who have already ransacked Ravenhill and Thomond Park this season, that may be mitigated by an expectant RDS and the enigmatic BOD factor.

I wrote back in April that lifting the Pro12 trophy should be the Warriors' season goal. If they are to realise that aim, they'll have to do it the hard way in Dublin, overturning one of club rugby's most formidable records, but I think that's exactly what will happen. Glasgow by two.

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Zane Kirchner, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Leo Cullen, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madian, 23 Darragh Fanning

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Al Kellock (c), 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Leone Nakarawa, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Sean Lamont

Date: Saturday 31st May
Venue: RDS
Kick-off: 1815 BST
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wal)
Assistant referees: Leighton Hodges, Ian Davies (both Wal)
TMO: Derek Bevan (Wal)