CHAMPIONS Leinster go to Murrayfield tonight in search of Magners League points, but face a huge battle against an Edinburgh team with an impressive home record.
Leinster coach Michael Cheika is gambling that a vastly under-strength team will snatch the points to keep their title challenge alive; the outcome will either be a coup or a disaster for the Australian, whose side cannot afford to lose another match in the four-game run-in.
For Leinster, seven points behind leaders Munster, Girvan Dempsey, Shane Horgan and Gordon D’Arcy provide the experience behind the scrum, while Cheika will be anxious to bring the highly promising Simon Keogh and Fergus McFadden on a notch.
An under-strength pack should, however, benefit from the presence of captain Leo Cullen, while Trevor Hogan, John Fogarty, Stephen Keogh and Sean O’Brien, all of whom have had to settle for secondary roles this season, still have a level of competitive experience to call upon.
The highly impressive O’Brien has been very close to selection on a regular basis — he would hold down a place in many other clubs — and he looks forward to helping Leinster to an unlikely win.
“The Harlequins win has given us all a lift, and we know that the real hard work starts now. There are a few places up for grabs, so the message for those of us who weren’t involved last week is that we will have to work hard to get into the team.
“I have enjoyed getting a run of games and just being involved in big ties, like the Wasps victory at home, gave me a taste of the level that’s required. It’s up to us this weekend to make a mark and take our chances.
“We have come up against tough teams throughout the league and Edinburgh will be formidable opponents. (Mike) Blair is a big threat and he really gets their back line moving. Their pack is very strong and we will have to match them up front if we are to get anything from the game.
“They have a proud home record in Murrayfield, but we have done ok on the road, and we managed to pick up good back-to-back victories over in Wales (against Scarlets and Ospreys) during the Six Nations, so that will give us an extra lift. Against Edinburgh, though, we have to be positive, strong-willed and street wise.”
Meanwhile, Alan MacDonald is the latest Edinburgh player to commit his future to the club after agreeing a new three-year contract; the open side flanker hopes to mark it by helping the team defeat Leinster.
The 23-year-old said: “I signed because I believe in the potential of the team to go on and win trophies. We have a young squad but we’re learning together, and I believe we can progress on to a higher level.”
Following his man-of-the-match display against Cardiff — Edinburgh’s fifth successive home win — MacDonald retains the number seven jersey in a largely unchanged starting line-up for tonight’s game.
Lock Jim Hamilton returns to the side after missing the win over the Blues with a shoulder injury while Ryan Grant is named amongst the replacements after recovering from an eye problem.
Andrew Turnbull returns after illness, and Allister Hogg keeps his place to continue a 100 per cent appearance rate this season.
On the injury front, Mark Robertson (hamstring) are joined in the treatment room by long term casualties Allen Jacobsen (shoulder), Ross Rennie (knee), David Callam (hip), and Steven Turnbull (ankle).
EDINBURGH: C Paterson; J Houston, B Cairns, N De Luca, S Webster; P Godman, M Blair (capt); K Traynor, R Ford, G Cross; C Hamilton, J Hamilton; S Newlands, A Hogg, A MacDonald.
Replacements: A Kelly, R Grant, S MacLeod, M Mustchin, G Laidlaw, D Blair, A Turnbull.
LEINSTER: G Dempsey; S Horgan, F McFadden, G D’Arcy, Simon Keogh; I Nacewa, C Keane; R McCormack, J Fogarty, S Knoop; L Cullen (capt), T Hogan; C Jowitt, Stephen Keogh, S O’Brien.
Replacements: B Blaney, O le Roux, D Toner, K McLaughlin, P O’Donohue, I McKinley, G Brown.
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