The Irish trio all return from long-term injuries to boost a side that is already packed with quality and what’s more it comes just a week out from their biggest Heineken Cup challenge in years.
Kearney is named in a pacy-looking back three alongside Fitzgerald and Fionn Carr, while O’Driscoll links up in midfield with Gordon D’Arcy. Eoin Reddan, set to make his 75th Leinster appearance, partners Jonathan Sexton at half back. With Leo Cullen leads close on their strongest 15 — one which includes Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien in the pack.
Shane Jennings has recovered from illness to take his place on the replacements bench alongside fellow Ireland internationals Michael Bent and Isaac Boss and starting number six Kevin McLaughlin is ready for more action.
And the latter believes that competition can only be a good thing: “The greater the competition for places, the more intense training is, and the enthusiasm all of the lads bring, can only be a positive.”
Nevertheless, he is certain Edinburgh could cause all sorts of problems despite the apparent gulf in class: “We went through a phase for a number of years where we couldn’t buy a win there. We won a high scoring game last year and snuck a win by the skin of our teeth after that, so we’re expecting them to be gunning for us. We’ll need to bring a high level of intensity and it’ll be another tight and physical battle.”
Edinburgh’s Irish coach Michael Bradley feels the same: “The competitiveness of the RaboDirect is exceptional and there are few, if any, tougher challenges than hosting the current European champions. “However, while we respect them, we don’t fear them and are fully focused on kick-starting the New Year at home after a tough December. We ran them close in Dublin earlier in the season and are looking forward to having another crack at them.”
The one change to the club’s backline sees Kiwi centre Ben Atiga start his first match since injuring his knee in October, to partner Matt Scott in midfield.
Willem Nel has recovered from the hamstring strain that ruled him out of last weekend’s loss to Glasgow Warriors, and is preferred to Geoff Cross at tight-head in an otherwise unchanged tight-five.
Georgian international Dimitri Basilaia, who makes his second start since arriving in the summer, completes a physical, ball-carrying back-row.
EDINBURGH: G Tonks, D Fife, M Scott, B Atiga, T Visser, P Francis, G Laidlaw (captain), A Jacobsen, A Titterell, W Nel, G Gilchrist, S Cox, S McInally, D Denton, D Basilaia.
Replacements: S Lawrie, R Hislop, G Cross, P Parker, N Talei, R Rees, J King, S Visser.
LEINSTER: R Kearney, F Carr, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald, J Sexton, E Reddan, C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen (captain), D Toner, K McLaughlin, J Heaslip, S O’Brien.
Replacements: A Dundon, H van der Merwe, M Bent, T Denton, S Jennings, I Boss, I Madigan, A Conway.