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Leinster Rugby vs Benetton Treviso
Guinness Pro12 Round 1
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 2nd September 2015, 19:35

Television: Live: TG4

It's been a tough summer for Leinster. They finished last season with a defeat in the Pro12 final in Edinburgh. Losing to an excellent Connacht team was no disgrace, but the limp performance will have rankled with them. The optimism generated by the semi-final win over Ulster disappeared as Connacht stretched Leinster with some excellent attacking rugby. Once Leinster couldn't dominate up front, they really had no other plan and in truth the style of Connacht's win was good for both the League and Irish rugby.

About a month into the off season, Leinster fans finally got the news they had been fearing for the last couple of years when Luke Fitzgerald announced his retirement. Luke had a fine career laced with honours and medals, but the thought will always be of how good a player he could have been without the succession of injuries that blighted him over the last five or six seasons. In the last two seasons, he played like he knew he was on borrowed time and he was Leinster's most exciting back last season when he was fit. He'll be sorely missed.

In recent weeks, there was more sad news with the announcement of defence coach Kurt McQuilkin's impending departure back to New Zealand. His reasons for leaving far outweigh any sport and we all wish him and his family all the best in their tough journey ahead. However it is a blow to a Leinster management team to lose both their most experienced member and the one unqualified success of last season as Leinster certainly wouldn't have topped the regular season table without McQuilkin's defensive system. We will hopefully see Kurt back in Leinster again one day.

In the summer Leinster had a visit from New Zealand's former coach Graham Henry. He came in for a few weeks as something of a coaching consultant. He spoke of Leinster's need to improve their passing, run straight lines, pass across the body and improve their ability to recognise opportunities. All good common sense, but nothing Leinster fans haven't been saying for the last two or three seasons. Hopefully, now that it was coming from a World Cup winning coach, the message will finally get through to the players.

In fairness, in Leinster's pre-season games there has been some very decent attacking rugby played so hopefully the lessons can bear fruit. In terms of transfers Leinster have lost a lot more than they have gotten in with the likes of Ben Te'o, Marty Moore and Ian Madigan moving on to new clubs and Eoin Reddan, Isaac Boss and Fitzgerald retiring. Jamison Gibson-Park, a nifty looking Kiwi scrum-half and Robbie Henshaw are the only major signings coming the other way. Henshaw is quality but also somewhat injury prone and he arrives injured and unlikely to be seen in blue for a couple of months. He's not the only injured player though and Leinster start the season with a depressingly familiar looking double-digit injury list that leaves things looking stretched.

Of course the one benefit of this is the experience the younger players will get and this is Leinster's main cause for optimism this season. Last season we saw Josh van der Flier, Garry Ringrose, Ross Molony, Peter Dooley and James Tracy all make a big impact. This season, there will be big hopes for the likes of Adam Byrne, Dan Leavy, Joey Carbery, Nick McCarthy and Rory O'Loughlin to make a similar impact.

With Johnny Sexton still not expected to be fit for a couple of weeks, Joey Carberry is given the first shot at becoming his main back-up as he's named for a first start at number 10. He partners Luke McGrath, who skippers the team. Garry Ringrose and Noel Reid are named in midfield and there's a hugely experienced back three of Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner and Fergus McFadden. In the pack, Cian Healy is fit to start at loosehead with Bryan Byrne getting a first start since October of last year at hooker and Michael Bent at tighthead. Ross Molony and Mike McCarthy are in the second row and there's an interesting back row of Dominic Ryan, Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy who plays his first representative game at number eight. Jamison Gibson-Park and the academy pair of Andrew Porter and Rory O'Loughlin will make their debuts if called off a bench that also includes returning Ireland players Mike Ross and Jordi Murphy.

For Treviso, last season was a horror show as they finished dead last in the league only winning three games and, for the first time, failed to qualify for Europe's top tournament. This humiliation seems to have opened the Benetton chequebook though and they've made a handful of useful signings in the likes of Tito Tebaldi, Michael Tagicakibau, Tommaso Allan and Tommaso Benvenuti. The most important one could be Kiwi Marty Banks from the Highlanders who's a very useful out-half. He'll face competition for the number ten jersey from former Leinster player Ian McKinley who has completed his remarkable journey back from retirement to sign for Treviso after playing a number of games for Zebre last season. He's been named on the bench tomorrow and it would be fantastic to see him take the pitch at some stage, if only to see the reception he gets from the RDS.

Treviso coach Kieran Crowley has named a solid looking team with Tommaso Benvenuti, Luke McLean and Tommaso Allan forming an all-international midfield trio. The experienced Alessandro Zanni captains the team from number eight in a pack that also features Francesco Minto and Filo Paulo.

It's hard to say at this stage how Leinster's season will go, but it looks reasonably safe to say they'll start the season with a comfortable enough win tomorrow evening.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Benetton Treviso
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Jayden Hayward
Zane Kirchner 14 Angelo Esposito
Garry Ringrose 13 Tommaso Benvenuti
Noel Reid 12 Luke McLean
Fergus McFadden 11 Andrea Buondonno
Joey Carbery 10 Tommaso Allan
Luke McGrath (C)
9 Giorgio Bronzini

Cian Healy 1 Nicola Quaglio
Bryan Byrne 2 Ornel Gega
Michael Bent 3 Simone Ferrari
Ross Molony 4 Marco Fuser
Mike McCarthy 5 Filo Paulo
Dominic Ryan 6 Francesco Minto
Josh van der Flier 7 Marco Lazzaroni
Dan Leavy 8 Alessandro Zanni (C)

Replacements James Tracy 16 Roberto Santamaria
Andrew Porter 17 Alberto De Marchi
Mike Ross 18 Tiziano Pasquali
Hayden Triggs 19 Dean Budd
Jordi Murphy 20
Marco Barbini
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Edoardo Gori
Cathal Marsh 22 Ian McKinley
Rory O'Loughlin 23 David Odiete

Not Considered
due to Injury
Edward Byrne,
Jack Conan,
Sean O'Brien,
Richardt Strauss,
Isa Nacewa,
Dave Kearney,
Mick Kearney,
Rhys Ruddock,
Ian Fitzpatrick,
Billy Dardis,
Johnny Sexton,
Robbie Henshaw,
Ian Nagle

Robert Barbieri,
Filippo Filippetto,
Davide Giazzon,
Jeff Montauriol,
Luca Morisi,
Michael Tagicakibau,
Tito Tebaldi,
Cherif Traore,
Abraham Steyn
Officials Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 25th competition game),
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (WRU), Joy Nevill (IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU),
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-09-22