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Edinburgh Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 1
Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Friday 4th September 2015, 19:35

Television: Live - TG4, BBC Alba

Well it's fair to say Leinster had an interesting summer. The last season had barely finished before head coach Matt O'Connor was sacked/suddenly decided to leave (adjust according to what you choose to believe). The Leinster illuminati appointed Leo Cullen as caretaker coach and sat back and waited for the inevitable flood of calls from the Worlds top coaches interested in the job.

And they waited.

And waited some more.

Eventually they twigged that there wasn't any real interest, at least not from any coach worth a damn.

So Leo Cullen was given the top job with Kurt McQuilkin coming back as defence coach and John Fogarty being promoted to scrum coach. Girvan Dempsey was also promoted to backs coach, temporarily for now, as Leinster may bring in an outsider once the World Cup is finished. Richie Murphy will also be back as skills coach once the World Cup is over.

There are justfiable reservations about Cullen getting the job so early in his coaching career. The shambolic nature of his appointment will also be a cause of concern. However, let's take a positive approach, for now at least.

Two of the biggest problems with the Matt O'Connor tenure were the absence of a clear gameplan and a lack of accountability from the players to the coaching staff. One of the biggest criticisms of Matt O'Connor was his apparent negative gameplan. What's emerged since his depature is the gameplan wasn't so much negative as non-existent. He seemed to place great store in the players playing what was in front of them, which sounds great on paper, but actually resulted in the muddled mess which we witnessed for most of the past two seasons. As Joe Schmidt puts it "players in the mordern game crave direction", such is the pace of the modern game. With all we know of Leo Cullen's meticulous nature, it's fair to think Leinster's players will take the pitch knowing exactly what's expected of them as individuals and as a team.

The second point was a lack of accountability of players. To put it simply, Matt O'Connor was just too nice to them. Apparently even senior players approached him to tell him he had to be harder on them, especially the newer guys. Mistakes were being made in games and then being laughed off in video reviews. It may have been a welcome relief to the players after three years of Joe Schmidt's brutal video reviews, but it seemed to contribute to a drop in overall standards. Again, with all we know of Leo Cullen's nature, it's highly unlikely he'll be too nice to the players. He was a hard task-master, even as a skipper, so it's fair to say players won't be getting away with much from now on.

He'll be greatly aided by the return of Kurt McQuilkin, which is a real coup for the province. He was the man behind the meanest defence in Europe when Leinster first won the Heineken Cup back in 2009 and his infectiously enthusiastic personality will hopefully offer a nice counterpoint to Cullen's tougher persona. The backs coach situation is interesting as well. Girvan Dempsey had done an excellent job with the A's since taking over from Colin McEntee. He had them playing some very nice rugby too and it will be interesting to see if he succeeds in replicating that with the seniors. He's effectively got a six game audition for the job but if he impresses Leinster could go with a coaching ticket featuring all ex-Leinster players.

Of course all this is taking place next to the backdrop of the World Cup. Leinster are providing 16 of Ireland's players, more than double the number of any other province, as well as Zane Kircher to South Africa. This will inevitably put pressure on the squad, however they will benefit from the presence of some the players who didn't make Joe Schmidt's cut. Michael Bent looked sure to travel to England for his ability to play on both sides of the scrum. However Schmidt went with the more natural talent of Tadgh Furlong. Bent will be disappointed but his versatility could provide some vital experience in an area where Leinster will be fairly threadbare. Marty Moore only missed out due to injuries, but hopefully he can find some fitness in the weeks to come and make an impact. Other players like Gordon D'Arcy, Isaac Boss and Fergus McFadden have also missed out, but Leo Cullen will be delighted to be able to call on their experience.

It's somewhat ironic that Cullen's first game as coach comes against the same side as Matt O'Connor's last game, Edinburgh. However he won't be back in a largely empty Murrayfield as Edinburgh are instead playing in the far more homely environs of Meggetland. This is due to the stage build for next week's Foo Fighters concert at Murrayfield.

Cullen has named a team with a mixture of youth and experience. Leinster fans will be delighted to see Isa Nacewa back at full back and he makes up a back three with Fergus McFadden and Darragh Fanning. Ben Te'o and Noel Reid resume a centre partnership that was quite impressive when paired up last season. Cathal Marsh finally makes his first start for Leinster after nearly wearing the pine off the bench last season. He makes up an inexperienced half back pairing with Luke McGrath, who really needs a breakout season this term.

Michael Bent is named at loosehead alongside Aaron Dundon and Jamie Hagan. Tom Denton and Mike McCarthy are the locks and Kevin McLaughlin captains the team from the back row alongside a pair of youngsters in Dan Leavy and Jack Conan. It's Leavy's first start in a senior game and he's been marked as a hugely exciting prospect since his school days. His progress over the last two seasons has been frustrated through a succession of injuries, but if he can stay fit, this kid could be something very special. Isaac Boss is named on the bench that should see the likes of Royce Burke-Flynn (possibly the most Leinster name ever!!), Ross Byrne and Garry Ringrose make their senior debuts.

Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons is missing nine players to the World Cup himself and he's named a fairly unfamiliar line-up. Belfast-born John Andress starts in the front row alongside Rory Sutherland and Neil Cochrane. while Anton Bresler and Ben Toolis are the two locks. Cornell Du Preez is named at blindside, with captain Roddy Grant at openside and new signing Nasi Manu makes his first competitive start for the club at no 8. The New Zealander is a former captain of the Highlanders and could prove to be an astute acquisition.

Another former Highlander, out-half Phil Burleigh is partnered with young scrum-half Nathan Fowles at halfback. Chris Dean and Sam Beard are the centres and Damien Hoyland is named in a big back three featuring internationals Dougie Fife and Jack Cuthbert.

Last season's failure to make the top four in the Pro 12 most likely cost Matt O'Connor his job. So Leo Cullen will have to get Leinster back to the type of form where they can win games like this, even when they're missing lots of players. Leinster fans won't be expecting miracles straight away and a scrappy game is inevitable but a good, competent performance should be enought to nick a win to kick things off on a postive note.

Team Lineups

Edinburgh Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Jack Cuthbert 15 Isa Nacewa
Dougie Fife 14 Fergus McFadden
Chris Dean 13 Ben Te'o
Sam Beard 12 Noel Reid
Damien Hoyland 11 Darragh Fanning
Phil Burleigh 10 Cathal Marsh
Nathan Fowles 9 Luke McGrath

Rory Sutherland 1 Michael Bent
Neil Cochrane 2 Aaron Dundon
John Andress 3 Jamie Hagan
Anton Bresler 4 Tom Denton
Ben Toolis 5 Mike McCarthy
Cornell Du Preez6 Kevin McLaughlin (C)
Roddy Grant (C) 7 Dan Leavy
Nasi Manu8 Jack Conan

Replacements George Turner 16 Bryan Byrne
Allan Dell 17 Peter Dooley
Simon Berghan 18 Royce Burke-Flynn
Fraser McKenzie 19 Ross Molony
Hamish Watson 20
Dominic Ryan
Sean Kennedy 21 Isaac Boss
Greig Tonks 22 Ross Byrne
James Johnstone 23 Garry Ringrose

Not Considered
Due to Injury

Edward Byrne,
Rhys Ruddock,
Martin Moore
Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU, 61st competition game),
Assistant Referees: Sam Grove-White, Mike Adamson (both SRU),
Citing Commissioner: John Kirk (SRU),
TMO: Jim Yuille (SRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-09-03