Leinster big guns ready to fire

The youngsters and the dirt-trackers did their bit during the World Cup, but Leinster are gradually dusting off their Sunday best for the bigger business to come with Jonathan Sexton among those drafted in to the side for tomorrow’s outing in Italy.
Leinster big guns ready to fire

Denuded of 19 players who were needed for World Cup duty, and more flown over later as injury cover, the province managed to win all three home ties in their absence while claiming just the one losing bonus point from two road trips.

Nine of those World Cup representatives start in a side that will feature a dozen Irish internationals and another quartet makes the bench. Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Mike Ross, Nathan White, Rob Kearney and Ian Madigan will wait a further week to pull on the blue.

It is a roll call of considerable class and experience that most clubs would die for — one that again begs the question as to why they stuttered so badly in the PRO12 last season – and Sexton’s return alone will ensure more eyes than usual will scan proceedings today.

That aside, the pairing of Luke Fitzgerald and Ben Te’o together in the midfield for the first time will be intriguing. Theirs could be a partnership of some worth going forward while former Maori All Black Hayden Triggs gets his first start in the second row.

Isa Nacewa, whose form has been hugely encouraging since returning to the club this summer after two years in retirement back in New Zealand, has also been named as club captain for the season with Sexton and Heaslip, last year’s skipper, nominated as his deputies.

Another subplot of interest beyond the borders of Leinster this campaign will be the situation in the front row where Mike Ross and Cian Healy are certain to face the stiffest competition yet for their posts as first-choice tighthead and loosehead prop respectively.

Healy was already dovetailing for game time with Jack McGrath prior to this season, but his neck surgery and delay in returning to play on the back of it compromised his input with Ireland in recent times and the younger suitor is well primed to kick on. Ross was demoted from the Leinster squad last January by former coach Matt O’Connor who preferred Marty Moore and Tadhg Furlon,g but he bounced back to lock Ireland’s scrum in the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup. He will turn 36 in December, however, and it was put to forwards coach John Fogarty this week that his attributes were not among the most suitable for a Leinster team that has sought to return to a more expansive game under Leo Cullen.

“I’ve seen Mike carry, I’ve seen him ping pong his way through contact,” said Fogarty.

“He doesn’t have to have the skillset that Lukey (Fitzgerald) does. Once he understands how we want to play the game and he is putting himself in good positions that suits us fine.”

It is Furlong who gets the start this weekend, with Moore in reserve, and the Wexford youngster is keen to get his hands dirty having featured for just 16 minutes during the World Cup, against Romania, though it was an experience that wasn’t lost on him.

“I’ve probably come back as a player who understands the game a bit more,” he explained.

“I was fifth prop over there so in the training teams I was always slotting in as a second-row or a number eight or a flanker or a winger. I was slotting in and out on the defensive teams because I was an extra body so, from that end, I saw a lot more of the game and moves outside of set-pieces that I wouldn’t have normally have if my head was still stuck in the scrum.”

Today’s Treviso side features a clutch of players who featured at the World Cup, but one that hasn’t claimed a PRO12 win since last February.

BENETTON TREVISO:

J Hayward; L Nitoglia, A Pratichetti, S Christie, S Ragusi; L Mclean, E Gori; M Zanusso, D Giazzon, R Harden; M Fuser, T Paulo; F Minto, A Zanni, A Steyn.

LEINSTER:

I Nacewa; F McFadden, B Te’o, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; H Triggs, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Conan.

Referee:

A Brace (IRFU).

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