Leaders put unbeaten runs to test

Jonathan Sexton – Among those out

RABODIRECT PRO12: Leinster v Glasgow
Players and coaches can always be depended upon to talk up the RaboDirect Pro12 but it has been a harder sell with the floating rugby punter whose eyes are far more easily turned by the Heineken Cup or Six Nations.

Tonight’s meeting of Leinster and Glasgow Warriors should be a more straightforward sale. League leaders versus the side tucked in behind them, the hosts on a run of eight straight wins, the visitors with seven consecutive league successes swinging from their belt.

“Obviously it’s a massive game,” said Leinster team manager Guy Easterby.

“They’ve won seven-in-a-row and five are bonus point wins so they’re incredibly strong, not only at home where they’ve always been strong, but they’re now travelling well.”

It’s something of a pity then that both sides will be wheeled out minus a plethora of key cogs with Leinster missing 11 players who could expect to be lining out or on the fringes of the first 15 were Joe Schmidt allowed the luxury of a full squad from which to choose.

Injury has denied the Kiwi Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan, Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden and Luke Fitzgerald, suspension has taken Brian O’Driscoll, while Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney will play no part after their international exertions.

On the plus side there is the return of the soon-to-depart Isa Nacewa who missed the last block of fixtures with injury, Gordon D’Arcy and South African lock Quinn Roux, although a bench boasting seven Academy graduates is somewhat light on experience.

Gregor Townsend had his own headaches to solve this last week given Stuart Hogg (knee), Sean Maitland (leg), Rory Lamont (ankle) and Chris Cusiter (shoulder) are among the leading lights who won’t take to the stage for him at the RDS.

All told, the Glasgow coach has made six personnel changes and one positional alteration to the side that overcame Cardiff three weeks ago and yet, with the likes of Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson and Sean Lamont on the bench, they appear to be in better health.

Glasgow’s much-heralded run has signalled a welcome trend given the struggles of Scottish sides in the Rabo under its various guises down the years but a closer examination of their recent form can’t help but take some of the sheen from it.

Of their seven victims, only Ulster have counted as a truly notable scalp. Other sides to have been dealt with include an awful Edinburgh side, bottom of the table Zebre and a poor excuse for a team in the Dragons who shipped 60 unanswered points on their own doorstep.

Time and again in recent years we have seen sides rock up to Dublin 4 with something of a reputation and a spring in their step only to slink meekly away after a sound beating so it was interesting to hear Townsend say this was something of a marker for his side.

“Leinster are the only team to still have a 100% home winning record in the league and that shows just how difficult our task will be. For the past few seasons they have been the best in Europe at playing with pace, ambition and aggression. Those selected must grab the opportunity to play in such an important fixture with both hands.”

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; D Kearney, E O’Malley, G D’Arcy, A Conway; I Madigan, I Boss; H van der Merwe, S Cronin, M Bent; L Cullen, Q Roux; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Murphy.

GLASGOW: P Murchie; T Seymour, A Dunbar, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe; D Weir, N Matawalu; M Low, D Hall, E Kalman; T Ryder, A Kellock; R Harley, J Barclay, J Strauss.


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