Edinburgh v Leinster
With Munster in action tomorrow evening against Scarlets, Leinster have the opportunity to join their provincial colleagues at the summit of the RaboDirect PRO12 table tonight when they take on Edinburgh in Murrayfield (KO: 7.35pm).
Close that four-point gap and they will have done so without 11 Irish internationals that started last Saturday’s Heineken Cup defeat by Northampton but who have been stood down entirely for this visit to Scotland.
In all, seven changes have been made to the pack and four to the back line as the IRFU’s player management protocols take effect with Ian Madigan, Brian O’Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald and Shane Jennings providing the quartet that has been asked to double up.
Among those rested are Rob Kearney, Gordon D’Arcy, Mike Ross and Jamie Heaslip and, with Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy also out injured, it amounts to a significant examination of the province’s strength in depth.
It will be a fourth successive start for Madigan at ten, which will no doubt please Ireland coach Joe Schmidt after the player’s early-season frustrations when Jimmy Gopperth was trusted with the job by Matt O’Connor.
O’Driscoll and Fitzgerald will no doubt benefit too given they have been lightly-run in recent times due to injury while Isaac Boss makes his first start since late October having finally shaken off a hamstring injury.
Zane Kirchner will make just his third start for the club since his summer signing from South Africa. The home side have been bettered just once on their own patch since April and are in the midst of a decent run right now with four wins banked from their last six outings across the PRO12 and European competitions.
Coach Alan Solomons courted considerable criticism when he left out three Scottish internationals — Greg Laidlaw, centre Nick De Luca and number eight David Denton — for last week’s trip to Gloucester but was vindicated with a shock win.
All three have been reinstated for Leinster’s arrival with the former Ulster coach counting on a reaction from men who he claimed had displayed signs of mental and physical fatigue before that game in Kingsholm.
“They obviously would have loved to have been part of Sunday’s win, but now they have a fantastic opportunity to contribute in a big game for us,” said Solomons.
“We appreciate that Leinster are one of, if not the top, side in Europe so it presents a massive challenge to which we are really looking forward.”
It looks like it will be wet, cold and windy in the Scottish capital but Leinster have won on their last two visits and have beaten a side once noted as their bogeys five times in a row between head-to-heads at home and away. It will be interesting to see if they have enough about them here to extend that run. O’Driscoll, Fitzgerald, Kirchner and Boss provide the back line with plenty of know-how and class while Leo Cullen and Kevin McLaughlin will augment the nous of Jennings up front.
Add in a sprinkling of up-and-coming greenhorns eager to add notches to their belt — Noel Reid at centre, tighthead Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy in the back row stand out in that sense — and Leinster may just have the tools to get the job done.
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