Preview: Leinster v Gunners
Saturday 5th November, 3pm, Donnybrook
After the highs and lows of the first two rounds of the Heineken Cup campaign, the Gunners next match sees them return to the bread-and-butter action of the Celtic League, this week away to Leinster. This weekend's match could play a huge part in determining where the Gunners lie in the table come the end of May. A glance at the league table shows the Dublin-based side lying one place behind the Gunners in the league table, and that only by virtue of the Gunners' superior points difference. What isn't so obvious at first glance is that Leinster have four bonus points for a free weekend, which the Gunners have yet to 'earn', but nevertheless the two sides appear closely matched.
The omens point in different directions. The Gunners have won only one of their last eight matches on the road, at Llanelli on the opening weekend of this season's Celtic Cup campaign. On the other hand, Leinster have managed just one win and a draw from their previous six encounters with the Gunners. Admittedly, that win came in the last match played at Donnybrook, but that was way back in October 2004, since when the Gunners have beaten Leinster again in a 74-point thriller at Murrayfield. That last statistic does point to the one almost sure thing about this match: it should be a high-scoring one, the two sides having never shared less than 48 points. Expect fireworks then, appropriately enough.
Looking at common opponents so far this season doesn't help much either. Leinster lost their opening game of the season away to the Ospreys by (almost) the narrowest of margins (two points since you ask), while the Gunners had a six-point victory over them at Murrayfield three weeks later. Leinster has beaten Glasgow twice, narrowly at home and last weekend by a good margin at Hughenden. In between those matches the Gunners beat Glasgow by a comfortable margin at home. A seven-point home win against Ulster for Leinster came just two weeks after the Gunners lost to the same opponents by seven points in Belfast. Both sides have beaten the Dragons at home, although Leinster managed it by a far more comfortable margin than the Gunners.
Leinster is currently ranked 13th in the Eurotable rankings which is pretty much where they've been all season. The Gunners lie five places behind them, having climbed up from 29th since the start of the season.
Both sides are packed with talent, but both also have injury problems, especially at centre where Brian O'Driscoll, Tom Phillip and Rob Dewey will all be missing. Also missing for Leinster will be flying wing Denis Hickie. The Gunners meanwhile are suffering something of an injury crisis at scrum-half, with Mike Blair and Rory Lawson departing injured in successive games.
Leinster have won four of their five home games this season, their only defeat coming two weeks ago at the hands of Bath in the Heineken Cup. They took out their frustrations last weekend, thrashing the Warriors at Hughenden as previously mentioned, so it's up to the Gunners to restore some Scottish pride. However, with everything so closely balanced it may, in the end, come down to home-field advantage.