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Leinster Rugby vs Aironi
RDS Showground, Dublin
Thursday, 10th February 2011, 19:05

Television: Live: RTE2

Tomorrow evening, Leinster take on Aironi for the first time in the Italian club's short history. Aironi only started as a club last summer as part of Italy's entry into the Magners League. They were formed as an amalgamation of eight clubs across two regions, but were mainly founded on Viadana, who no longer compete as a professional club. The logic behind sending two Italian teams into the Magners League was to give their clubs a higher standard of domestic competition than the old Super 10 could provide. On the evidence of Italy running Ireland very close last Saturday, it certainly seems to have helped with regard to their fitness levels.

Treviso were already an established club and they hit the ground running with fine wins over the Scarlets, Leinster and Connacht and lie in mid-table with six wins from eleven games. Aironi were a new franchise though, starting from scratch and they've found things a lot tougher. They've yet to win a league game, although they've run Ulster, Edinburgh and Treviso close at home, losing by only a score or less to each. They did get a massive boost though when they produced the shock of the Heineken Cup pool stages by beating mighty Biarritz, last year's finalists.

In their last Magners League outing away to Cardiff, they only lost 24-13 so they'll be hopeful of putting in another good performance. With their Italian internationals on Six Nations duty, they've still managed to name a side with some familiar names. Marco Bortolami, one of Italian rugby's finest ever second rows, captains them and though he's not the player he once was, he's still a very experienced presence. As with all Italian teams, they have a decent scrum and in Alberto De Marchi and Fabio Staibano they have two fine props. There's a familiar face in the backrow in former Munster number eight Nick Williams and he makes up a powerful trio with Nicola Cattina and South African Jaco Erasmus. In the backs scrum-half Tito Tebaldi is another international as in Kaine Robertson a New Zealand born winger who's got bags of pace. Obviously it's far from their first choice, but it's still a reasonable enough team.

Leinster have named a very young starting fifteen for the match with an average age of just 23. Rhys Ruddock captains the team for the first time and it's quite an achievement for a twenty-year-old, but it just illustrates how much his leadership ability is respected by the management. He makes up a strong backrow with Dominic Ryan and Stephen Keogh, who's recovered from a calf injury to start at number eight. In the second row Devin Toner is named alongside Kevin McLaughlin, who makes his first ever start at lock. It's an interesting selection for McLaughlin as it could be his long-term position considering how much competition there is at flanker at the moment. Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss and Clint Newland offer some much needed experience in the front row.

In the backs Paul O'Donohoe and Ian Madigan make up an inexperienced half-back combination and it's somewhat surprising that Isaac Boss is left on the bench. However O'Donohue will be itching to show what he can do in a rare chance for him. Madigan's game has looked more rounded of late and he's shown up well on the 'A' team so hopefully he can being that form to a higher level. Brendan Macken makes his first start for Leinster in the centre alongside Eoin O'Malley. Macken was talked up as the next big thing at the start of last season, but he's had to bide his time while his Blackrock team-mate Andrew Conway has made several appearances. Now he's got his chance and he'll be looking to continue the form he showed in the Ireland Under-20s match last weekend. Conway is on the right wing, with Dave Kearney on the left and at full-back Isa Nacewa will have to carry a lot on his shoulders as the one experienced player in the backline.

It's vital that Leinster keep up on the pressure on the Scarlets to get into the top two in the table, so they won't be taking this game lightly. It's a very young Leinster team, no doubt about it and they'll lean heavily on their more experienced players. If the weather is poor, it could be a pretty scrappy affair but Leinster's young bucks still should be good enough to earn a comfortable enough win in the end.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Teams Isa Nacewa
15 Paolo Buso
Andrew Conway
14 Kaine Robertson
Brendan Macken
13 Gabriel Pizarro
Eoin O'Malley
12 Horacio San Martin
David Kearney
11 Danwel Demas
Ian Madigan
10 James Marshall
Paul O'Donohoe
9 Tito Tebaldi

Heinke van der Merwe 1 Alberto De Marchi
Richardt Strauss
2 Roberto Santamaria
Clint Newland
3 Fabio Staibano
Devin Toner 4 Marco Bortolami (C)
Kevin McLaughlin
5 Joshua Furno
Rhys Ruddock (C) 6 Nicola Cattina
Dominic Ryan
7 Jaco Erasmus
Stephen Keogh
8 Nick Williams

Replacements Jason Harris-Wright 16 Luigi Ferraro
Jack McGrath
17 Andrea De Marchi
Simon Shawe
18 Luca Redolfini
Ed O'Donoghue
19 George Biagi
Shane Jennings
20 Andrea Benatti
Isaac Boss
21 Pietro Travagli
Ian McKinley
22 Alberto Benettin
Niall Morris
23 Matteo Pratichetti

Not Considered
due to Injury
Stan Wright,
Rob Kearney,
Shane Horgan,
Shaun Berne

Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Dave Wilkinson, Mark Hermin (both IRFU)
4th Official: John Montayne (Leinster Rugby Referees)
5th Official: James Fegan (Leinster Rugby Referees)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-02-12