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Leinster Rugby vs Edinburgh Rugby
RDS Showground,
Saturday, 22nd September 2012, 18:15

Television: Live - RTE2

Leinster got out of jail last week as a monster Johnny Sexton drop goal grabbed back a game that looked to have slipped through their fingers. As often happens when so many internationals return at once it was an uneven performance from Leinster. Truth be told, Treviso played most of the rugby and deserved the victory. But once again Leinster showed their character and will to win and Devin Toner did great work to regain the restart and set up the drive that ultimately led to Sexton's drop goal. So even if the performance wasn't memorable, it's still a useful result to have in the bag because by the looks of that Treviso side they'll take a lot of points off Leinster's rivals this season.

This week, Leinster face Edinburgh back home in the RDS. There was a time, before those damned Ospreys came along, that Edinburgh were considered Leinster's bogey team. Many a Leinster European campaign was wrecked on the rocky shores of a miserable, empty Murrayfield. That has waned somewhat in the last while though and Leinster have only lost once to Edinburgh in their last six meetings. Last season they did the double over them, including a massive, eight-try 54-13 win at home in April. Admittedly though, Edinburgh were concentrating fully on their European run as their league campaign was already a write-off at that stage.

Their season was certainly an oddity. Edinburgh have traditionally been the stronger of the two Scottish teams in the league, generally finishing in the top half of the table. Yet last season, they finished second from bottom with just six wins and only poor Aironi (now defunct) below them. At the same time, they had their best season in Europe ever, topping their group and beating Toulouse in the quarter-finals before going out to Ulster in a tense semi-final in Dublin. It was a great run and for once it was great to see a huge crowd in Murrayfield for an Edinburgh game.

However, politically their run couldn't have come at a worse time. With the Heineken Cup format due to be renegotiated, English critics of the Pro12 used Edinburgh's European success, while simultaneously tanking in the league, as proof that Celtic clubs have it easy and could neglect their league and concentrate on Europe. They ignored the fact that Edinburgh had benefited from being in a weak group with a mediocre Cardiff team, a disorganised mess of a London Irish team and a barely conscious Racing 92 side. Then they caught a lazy, conceited Toulouse team on the hop, the French clearly thinking they just had to turn up to Murrayfield to win.

Their coach Michael Bradley was embarrassed by their mixed fortunes though and money was made available to strengthen their squad during the summer. Welsh internationals John Yapp and Richie Rees arrived from the Cardiff Blues. South African's WP Nel and Izak van der Westhuizen were signed from the Cheetahs and Ben Atiga, who was once tipped as a future All Black superstar, was signed from Otago. With long-serving Scottish players like Mike Blair, Chris Paterson and Phil Godman departing in the summer, it means there's a very different shape to the squad this season.

They've had a better start to their league campaign this term. Despite losing their opening game to Munster, a game they probably should have won, they recovered to win their last two games, away to Cardiff and at home to Zebre. Tim Visser, the league's leading try scorer for the last two seasons, had started the season in blistering form. He's already favourite to top the charts again after scoring six tries in three games. A big part of Leinster's gameplan would have been based around stopping him but Bradley has sprung something of a surprise by resting him for this weekend. Instead Tom Brown is named on the left wing with Lee Jones on the right and Greig Tonks, another signing in the summer from Northampton, named at full back. Brown is the only change to the backline with Matt Scott and Nick De Luca continuing at centre and Richie Rees and their captain Greig Laidlaw named at half-back.

In the pack, there are two more changes to the team that beat Zebre. Geoff Cross comes in for WP Nel at tighthead prop and he and John Yapp pack down either side of Scotland captain and hooker Ross Ford. Sean Cox and Grant Gilchrist make up the second row and the only other change to the team is the return of openside Roddy Grant to the back row in place of Ross Rennie, another international who's rested. With Stuart McInally and Netani Talei alongside Grant, it makes for a powerful and quick breakaway unit. It's a strong team with a lot of talent spread around the park.

Leinster's team sees the return Gordon D'Arcy, which leaves Rob Kearney as the last remaining fit international who hasn't played so far this season. D'Arcy replaces Fergus McFadden at inside centre to pair up with Brian O'Driscoll who hit the ground running with a classic 'Drico' type try last week. Isa Nacewa replaces Ian Madigan at full back in the other change to the backline from last week. This means Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway stay on the wings for the fourth game running. Sexton and Eoin Reddan are the half-backs once again, but both John Cooney and Ian Madigan should see some significant game-time.

In the pack Cian Healy comes in to make his first start of the season at loosehead prop. He packs down alongside Mike Ross and hooker Sean Cronin who comes in for Richardt Strauss, who sits out this week after taking a bad knock to the head in Treviso. Leo Cullen comes to in captain the team from the second row and packs down alongside Tom Denton, who makes his first competitive start for Leinster since signing from Leeds in the summer. The back row is unchanged from last week and in the absence of Sean O'Brien, Healy and Cronin's ball carrying ability will be a welcome addition to the pack.

Edinburgh will come out swinging no doubt trying to stretch Leinster with their usual high tempo game plan. However Leinster should be too strong for them overall and should come away with a comfortable enough win in the end.

Finally, a word on the death of Ulster's Nevin Spence, who was killed alongside his father Noel and brother Graham in a tragic farming accident last Saturday. Anyone who'd been watching the Irish under-20s team a few seasons back knew Nevin had a bright future that was sure to include several Ireland caps. A strong, quick and hard-working centre, he was marked down in Ulster circles as a future mainstay of the province. That is now sadly not to be and everyone at this site sends their condolences to the Spence family on their incalculable loss. An online movement of Leinster fans intend to sing a chorus of their anthem "Stand up for the Ulstermen" in their honour at the end of the minute's silence. Please join in to show the Spence family and our brothers and sisters at Ulster that we stand with them in this dark hour.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Edinburgh Rugby
Teams Isa Nacewa 15 Greig Tonks
Andrew Conway 14 Lee Jones
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Nick De Luca
Gordon D'Arcy
12 Matt Scot
Fionn Carr 11 Tom Brown
Jonathan Sexton
10 Greig Laidlaw
Eoin Reddan
9 Richie Rees

Cian Healy
1 John Yapp
Sean Cronin 2 Ross Ford
Mike Ross
3 Geoff Cross
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Grant Gilchrist
Tom Denton
5 Sean Cox
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Stuart McInally
Shane Jennings 7 Roddy Grant
Jamie Heaslip
8 Netani Talei

Replacements Tom Sexton 16 Andy Titterrell
Heinke van der Merwe 17 Robin Hislop
Jamie Hagan
18 Willem Nel
Devin Toner 19 Robert McAlpine
Jordi Murphy 20 Dimitri Basilaia
John Cooney
21 Chris Leck
Ian Madigan 22 Harry Leonard
Brendan Macken
23 Dougie Fife
Not considered
due to injury
Luke Fitzgerald,
Sean O'Brien,
Eoin O'Malley,
Rhys Ruddock,
David Kearney,
Mark Flanagan,
Conor Gilsenan,
Isaac Boss,
Dominic Ryan,
Aaron Dundon,
David Doyle,
Richardt Strauss
  Ben Atiga,
Ben Cairns,
David Denton,
Steven Lawrie,
Perry Parker,
Steven Turnbull
Match Officials Referee: Neil Hennessy (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Simon McDowell, Richard Kerr (both IRFU),
4th Official: Ed Kenny (Leinster Rugby Referees),
5th Oficial: Danny Wallace (Leinster Rugby Referees),
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-10-05