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Leinster Rugby vs Edinburgh
RDS Showground, Dublin
Sunday, 9th May 2010, 18:15

Television: Live: Setanta Ireland

It was sweet while it lasted but Leinster relinquished their hold on the Heineken Cup last weekend. Once the draw was made and they knew they'd have to travel to Toulouse it was always going to be tough and so it proved. Toulouse were the better team on the day and fully deserved their win but it was to Leinster's immense credit that they fought bravely to the end. Their bravery was not matched by the performance though and in truth, they didn't play well enough to earn a place in the final. As good as Toulouse were, there were still moments when Leinster could have taken a foothold in the match but mistakes at this crucial times let them down. Another factor was the defence that hasn't been as good this term. Last season Leinster's defence was meaner than a Cavan man at Christmas, conceding only five tries in nine European games. This season, they conceded ten tries in eight games and while there were of course other factors involved, the simple fact was that it was easier to cross Leinster's line this year.

For all that, they defended their title with honour and going out to a quality team like Toulouse away from home is certainly no disgrace. Now they have to move on though and this means Edinburgh in the Magners League this Sunday. After leading the league for so long, Leinster will still need to win to secure top spot and home advantage for the semi-final.

To that end, Michael Cheika has named his strongest possible team for what is his final regular home game in charge. There is only one change from the team that started last weekend, with young Dominic Ryan coming in for the injured Shane Jennings at open-side flanker. Ryan was a big part of the Ireland Under-20 Championship winning side and he was impressive when he came on against Glasgow recently. As a converted blind-side he's capable of putting in some big hits, but he'll need to be clever at the breakdown too. Hopefully, being part of such an experienced pack will help him.

The fact that the rest of the team is unchanged is a statement of intent from Cheika that they're not taking anything for granted in this match. The bench is not yet finalised but there's a possibility that Sean O'Brien might be on it. He's made a remarkably quick recovery from the broken leg he suffered back in February and his aggression and enthusiasm will be a big boost for the squad.

Up to recently Edinburgh looked odds on to join Leinster in the semi-finals but a recent run of three consecutive defeats has seen their hopes all but extinguished. First they lost a tight one away to Connacht and then they took a hiding from the Dragons. Worst of all was the 37-25 home defeat to a struggling Ulster team. A win would have put them right in the mix but they played a bewilderingly loose game and ended up conceding five tries. They still have a mathematical chance of making the play-offs but they'd need to beat Leinster with a four-try bonus point and then hope Cardiff beat Munster without earning a bonus point. It's a long shot but Edinburgh are masters at wrecking Leinster's day and they'll certainly be up for it.

They've made four changes to the team that started against Ulster. Jim Thompson comes in at full-back which means Ben Cairns goes back to the centre. Thompson makes up a big, quick back three with Mark Roberston and Dutch international Tim Visser. The other three changes are in the pack where Kyle Traynor, Steven Turnbull and Ali Hogg replace Geoff Cross, Jim Hamilton and David Callam respectively. It's a typical mobile Edinburgh pack and with their pacy backs they'll be looking to play their usual high-tempo, multi-phase game that has caused Leinster problems in the past.

It was announced earlier in the week that Girvan Dempsey will retire at the end of the season. 'Girve the Swerve' has always had a special place in the hearts of Leinster fans and was the first player to receive a 'legends' t-shirt in his honour from the supporter's club. In a stellar 14-year professional career, he's amassed over 170 Leinster caps and 82 Ireland caps but there is much more to the man than mere statistics. He was always 'Mr. Dependable' on the pitch, the guy everyone could count on to do his job with the minimum of fuss. Off the pitch, he was known as one of the game's true gentleman, a modest, unassuming guy who always had time for fans. In the games during the Six Nations this season, when Leinster had to field some very inexperienced backlines, Girve was the rock at the back they could rely on. These young guys couldn't have a better role model for how to conduct themselves as professionals.

Girve will be missed, but he's not gone yet and hopefully his announcement will inspire the squad to send him off with a third Celtic/Magners League medal in his pocket. Edinburgh will go hell for leather but hopefully Leinster will have enough in the tank to get the win they need and book a home semi-final next weekend.

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-05-07