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Aironi Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Stadio Zaffanella, Italy,
Saturday, 23rd April 2011, 14:30 (13:30 Irish Time)

Television: Nothing, nada, nowt!

For the first time in four years, Leinster will play an away match and only those fans lucky enough to have made the trip over will see it. Leinster fans at home will be reduced to relying on updates from the Magners League website and the OLSC twitter feed. It will be an odd experience as in recent years we've become somewhat spoilt in having all our away matches televised. However the failure of Dahlia TV has left Italian rugby without a host broadcaster and there is no-one there to relay the pictures to RTE or TG4.

However it certainly won't be a case of 'out of sight, out of mind' for fans as they are well aware of the importance of this fixture. Even with the Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulouse coming up next week, Leinster need to keep their focus. They need to win to keep their dream of a home semi-final going. Their excellent bonus point win over Ulster last week put them in prime position to achieve a second place finish.

With Cardiff beating Treviso last night but failing to get a bonus point, Leinster's position is now clearer. They now need two wins over the bottom two teams in the league (after Aironi, it's Glasgow in a fortnight) plus one bonus point from either of the games to guarantee them second place. However this fixture has 'banana skin' written all over it and Joe Schmidt will be eager to keep his players minds on the task at hand.

For Aironi, they'll be looking to get just their second league win of the season, their first having come four weeks ago at home to Connacht. It's been a baptism of fire for the newly formed club this season and their only other win came at home to Biarritz in the Heineken Cup. But it's been noticeable how their results have improved in the second half of the season with much closer games and a number of losing bonus points. They're a typical Italian team with a big pack and they will remember how close they ran Leinster back in February when they only lost 21-16.

They have several internationals back who didn't feature that day in lock Quintin Geldenhuys, flanker Josh Sole, scrum half Pablo Canavosio, prop Salvatore Perugini and hooker Fabio Ongaro. They all feature in the squad this Saturday though as Aironi make seven changes to the team that lost in Edinburgh last week. Horacio San Martin comes in at fullback for the injured Giulio Rubini. There's decent pace on the wings in Kaine Robertson and Danwel Demas and Gabriel Pizarro comes into the centre to make up a pretty physical partnership with Gilberto Pavan. Another international, Tito Tebaldi, comes in to partner New Zealand youngster James Marshall at half-back.

Josh Sole returns from suspension to play in the back row alongside former Munster number eight Nick Williams and South African Gareth Krause. Former Italian captain Marco Bortolami skippers the team from the second row alongside Joshua Furno, who comes in for Geldenhuys, who is somewhat surprisingly dropped to the bench. In the front row Fabio Staibano and Alberto De Marchi come in at prop alongside Ongaro, who retains his place at hooker.

Leinster make ten changes to the team that started against Ulster and another two positional switches. Once again, Schmidt has chosen to mix things up but has still named a very strong side. In all, only Devin Toner, Shane Jennings and Luke Fitzgerald retain their starting positions from the last day. Toner is the only survivor in the front five with Nathan Hines, Cian Healy, Jason Harris-Wright and Mike Ross all rotating in. Jennings makes up the backrow with Rhys Ruddock at six and Sean O'Brien at number eight.

In the backs Eoin O'Malley moves to inside centre to allow the return of Brian O'Driscoll at outside centre and he also captains the team from the start for the first time since he lifted the Magners League trophy back in 2008. Fergus McFadden moves out to the right wing and Fitzgerald stays on the left. Isa Nacewa gets a well-earned rest as for the first time this season he doesn't feature in the match-day squad. Dave Kearney takes his place, making his first Leinster start at full-back. Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan come in at halfback for Isaac Boss and Jonathan Sexton. They are both named in possibly the strongest bench in Leinster history with Richardt Strauss, Heinke van der Merwe, Stan Wright, Leo Cullen, Dominic Ryan and Shane Horgan. You get the sense that Strauss and Sexton will only be used if the result is in any way in doubt though as they are key men for next week.

It's a decent Aironi team that deserves respect and they'll certainly be up for a battle up front. However it's definitely a strong enough Leinster team to get the win they need. The bonus point would be nice but it's not strictly necessary. Just get the win in the bag and then we can all start thinking about Toulouse next week.

Team Lineups

Aironi Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Horacio San Martin 15 David Kearney
Kaine Robertson 14 Fergus McFadden
Gilberto Pavan 13 Brian O'Driscoll (C)
Gabriel Pizarro 12 Eoin O'Malley
Danwel Demas 11 Luke Fitzgerald
James Marshall 10 Ian Madigan
Tito Tebaldi 9 Eoin Reddan

Alberto De Marchi 1 Cian Healy
Fabio Ongaro 2 Jason Harris-Wright
Fabio Staibano 3 Mike Ross
Joshua Furno 4 Devin Toner
Marco Bortolami (C)
5 Nathan Hines
Josh Sole 6 Rhys Ruddock
Gareth Krause 7 Shane Jennings
Nick Williams 8 Sean O'Brien

Replacements Luigi Ferraro 16 Richardt Strauss
Salvatore Perugini 17 Heinke van der Merwe
Luca Redolfini 18 Stan Wright
Quintin Geldenhuys 19 Leo Cullen
Nicola Cattina 20 Dominic Ryan
Pablo Canavosio 21 Isaac Boss
Matteo Pratichetti 22 Jonathan Sexton
Riccardo Bocchino 23 Shane Horgan

Not Considered
due to Injury
Ludovic Mercier,
Carlo del Fava,
Julien Laharrague,
Giulio Rubini

Rob Kearney,
Shaun Berne,
Stephen Keogh,
Andrew Conway
Officials Referee: Andrew McMenemy (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Mauro Dordolo, Claudio Blessano (both FIR)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-04-22