The former South Sydney Rabbitohs star featured in the ‘A’ side’s 26-24 defeat to Carmarthen Quins on Saturday, and has received the nod to partner Noel Reid in the Blues’ midfield.
Having made a similar transition during his own playing career, Leinster coach Matt O’Connor has been able to provide some valuable insight to the Auckland native, who is also benefiting from living under the same roof as the Kearney brothers, Rob and Dave.
“The reality is you’ve got to look at as much rugby as you can. You’ve got to immerse yourself in it and, thankfully, he’s been living with Rob and Dave Kearney and we’ll certainly be using every avenue we can to expose him to the game,” O’Connor explained yesterday.
“He’s not going to have any issues physically from a power and endurance perspective, so that’s not going to be an issue. It’s just understanding the little bits of detail, where to stand and how to impart himself on the game. He’s a great pro. He’s demonstrated that throughout his League career and he’s got a hunger to work and a hunger to learn as quickly as he can.”
Elsewhere, recent Ireland call-up Darragh Fanning is selected in a back-three that also includes Zane Kirchner and Luke Fitzgerald. In the absence of Ian Madigan, Jimmy Gopperth is expected to resume place-kicking duties, and despite the presence of Isaac Boss in the match-day 23, he is joined at half-back by Luke McGrath.
Following the impressive away Euro success over Castres Olympique, Michael Bent, Kane Douglas and Dominic Ryan keep their places in the pack, where experienced flanker Kevin McLaughlin makes a welcome return.
The St Mary’s College man captains the team on his 112th appearance for the province and, after a frustrating time on the sidelines, hopes to make a considerable impact tonight. He admitted: “It’s nice to come back. A lot of young lads coming into the squad which is quite exciting. A lot of talent. It is always a huge honour to captain the side. I’m delighted. I’ll try and go flat out from the start, try and maintain it rather than easing off. I know I haven’t played in about six weeks but I haven’t just been sitting down in those six weeks either; I have been training hard. There is no substitute for match fitness but I’ll back myself to hopefully go 80 minutesand build on it over the next few weeks.”
Depending on other results this weekend, Leinster could potentially rise to the play-off places with a win, and they will be hot favourites to emerge victorious against Alan Solomons’ depleted squad. Although only two players are away on international duty, Edinburgh’s astonishing injury list means that 20 are unavailable for this round seven encounter.
Nevertheless, wingers Dougie Fife and the Dutch-born Tim Visser (who has registered 60 tries since joining the Murrayfield men four years ago) are highly-accomplished performers at this level, as is returning No 8 David Denton. Andries Strauss, brother of Leinster’s starting hooker Richardt, is captain.
LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; D Fanning, B Te’o, N Reid, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, L McGrath; M Bent, R Strauss, T Furlong; T Denton, K Douglas; K McLaughlin, D Ryan, J Conan.
Replacements: B Byrne, E Byrne, P Dooley, B Marshall, D Leavy, I Boss, S Crosbie, M McGrath.
EDINBURGH: N McLennan; D Fife, J Dominquez, A Strauss, T Visser; T Heathcote, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dell, J Hilterbrand, W Nel; B Toolis, J Turley; M Bradbury, T Leonardi, D Denton.
Replacements: J Kerr, R Sutherland, J Andress, J Ritchie, G Turner, S Kennedy, G Tonks, J Cuthbert.