Luke Fitzgerald’s badly-timed absence through injury will finally end this evening when he lines out at full-back for Leinster’s RaboDirect Pro12 encounter with Aironi at the Stadio Zaffanella.
With Ireland playing their next three Six Nations fixtures in consecutive weeks, it seems unlikely the Ireland wing will be up to speed in time to play any part with Declan Kideny’s side before the summer at least.
Still, tonight is a start.
Coincidentally, Fitzgerald will wear the 15 jersey, which he failed to pin down this time last year with the national side, as Isa Nacewa has been given a rare week off after his eventful contribution in Firhill last week.
Isaac Boss is the other experienced anchor in a back line that is again peppered with inexperience and among the fresh faces is that of Andrew Conway, who made his own return from injury in Scotland.
“I had a rough old few months, even going into last year, so it’s great to be back,” said the Blackrock old boy who has damaged his neck, ruptured ligaments and suffered concussion in recent months.
“I played a few games since the start of the season and then got injured again but hopefully I’ve put that behind me now and I’ll get a run of games with the seniors and then into the B & I Cup semi-final against Munster in a few weeks.”
Joe Schmidt has balanced his back line’s youth with a heavy dose of experience in a pack where an all-Irish international back row of Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings and Rhys Ruddock will be key.
The European champions will equal Munster’s tournament record of 14 games unbeaten if they avoid defeat in Italy against a bottom-placed Aironi side that has picked up points in their last three home games.
AIRONI: G Toniolatti; R Pavan, R Quartaroli, G Pizarro, S Sinoti; N Olivier, T Tebaldi; J Sole, S Favaro, N Cattina; C Del Fava, G Biagi; L Romano, R Santamaria, M Aguero.
LEINSTER: L Fitzgerald, A Conway, E O’Malley, B Macken, F Carr, I Madigan, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, N White; D Browne, Devin Toner; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, R Ruddock.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved