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Murrayfield, Edinburgh,
Friday, 18 April 2008, 19:30
Television: Live - Setanta Sport 1, Deferred Coverage - Setanta Ireland 21:05

We're nearly there!  Leinster face Edinburgh tomorrow night with a chance to reclaim the Magners/Celtic League six years after they claimed the inaugural event.  To win the championship Leinster will need to win with four-try bonus point.  This would leave them on 59 points, a total only Munster could still theoretically match, but Leinster would have 13 wins, a total Munster would fall short of even if they win all their remaining games.

Leinster return to Murrayfield for the first time since their bitter 29-10 defeat in December that effectively ended their European hopes for the season.  There was an angry reaction from the fans after that match, justifiably so, but it may well be viewed as a watershed in times to come.  Since that match Leinster have lost only one game, the Heineken Cup dead rubber away to Leicester.  A new hard-nosed pragmatism has emerged.  In the past Leinster have played to perform and hoped that the win would come through the performance.  Now though, Leinster are very much a team that play to win.

The manner of the wins in the last two matches against the Scarlets and especially against Munster tells their own story.  Playing in brutal weather conditions Leinster were more than happy to get down and dirty and ruck and maul their way to convincing wins.  In the recent past, Leinster would probably have tried to spin the ball wide and then have watched in frustration as the knock-ons mounted up.  Those days are gone.  Leinster now are prepared to play the conditions to get the win.  Some Leinster fans of a more romantic notion may frown on this, but the majority will be delighted that we're not getting bullied anymore and can win in any conditions.

That said, they can take nothing for granted on Friday as Leinster's record in Murrayfield is absolutely dismal.  In that infamous recent game Keith Gleeson admitted that they didn't give Edinburgh enough respect and didn't "fear losing enough".  The memory of that nineteen point defeat should be more than enough to dispel any such notions.  Edinburgh have had a few injuries recently but they're still able to field 10 of the team that won so well in December.

Their biggest loss is of course Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair.  Blair is replaced with young tyro Greig Laidlaw, nephew of Roy Laidlaw, one of Scotland's finest ever scrum-halves.  He's partnered by Phil Godman, who kicked nineteen points in the win in December.  Nick DeLuca and Ben Cairns also have fond memories of that match and they form a youthful centre partnership.  Hugo Southwell starts at full back with Simon Webster and John Houston on the wings.

In the pack Ali Hogg is the star man and he captains the team from blindside flanker alongside Alan MacDonald and the powerful David Callam.  Ex-Irish provincial players Matt Mustchin & Ben Gissing continue their experienced partnership in the second row and Augusto Allori, Ross Ford and Gavin Kerr form a big and mobile front row.

For Leinster the big news is the return of Brian O'Driscoll for his first match since tearing a hamstring in the Six Nations match against Wales.  It's his 100th cap for Leinster and his return at out-side centre sees Luke Fitzgerald move to the wing in place of Shane Horgan who is unwell.  In the pack there are two changes.  Stephen Keogh rotates back into the back-row with Shane Jennings again switching to open-side flanker in place of Keith Gleeson.  The only other change sees Malcolm O'Kelly getting a well-deserved rest with Trevor Hogan replacing him in the second row.

It's an exciting mix of youth and experience in the backline that could run in a heap of tries.  However with rain again forecast, it looks like it'll be up to the pack to slog it out for another win on the road.  But the travelling Leinster fans are used to that as this stage.  Hopefully it'll be another wet, mucky win for Leinster.

Team Lineups
  Edinburgh Rugby   Leinster Rugby
Teams Hugo Southwell 15 Girvan Dempsey
Simon Webster 14 Luke Fitzgerald
Ben Cairns 13 Brian O'Driscoll
Nick De Luca 12 Felipe Contepomi
John Houston 11 Robert Kearney
Phil Godman 10 Jonathan Sexton
Greig Laidlaw 9 Chris Whitaker
Augusto Allori 1 Ollie Le Roux
Ross Ford 2 Bernard Jackman
Gavin Kerr 3 Stan Wright
Matt Mustchin 4 Leo Cullen (C)
Ben Gissing 5 Trevor Hogan
Ali Hogg (C) 6 Stephen Keogh
Alan MacDonald 7 Shane Jennings
David Callam 8 Jamie Heaslip
Replacements Andrew Kelly 16 Seven from:
Brian Blaney
Stephen Knoop
Malcolm O'Kelly
Cameron Jowitt
Keith Gleeson
Chris Keane
Christian Warner
Michael Berne
Gary Brown
Geoff Cross 17
Craig Hamilton 18
Scott Newlands 19
Ben Meyer 20
David Blair 21
Calum MacRae 22
Not Considered
due to Injury

  Gordon D'Arcy
Shane Horgan
Officials Referee: Tim Hayes (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2008-04-21