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Edinburgh Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
RaboDirect Pro12 Round 10
Murrayfield, Edinburgh,
Friday, 20th December 2013, 19:35

Television: Live - RTE2, BBC Alba

Nearly a week later but last Saturday's game still smarts.

Leinster would have had qualification practically sewn up had they won, but instead they're back in the mix now with some nervous times ahead. Everyone knew there would be a reaction from a club as proud as Northampton. Beating them at home was one thing but absolutely hammering them was another and with the history of these double-headers, Leinster had to know they'd come out firing. Even the Leinster team themselves spoke all week about expecting a backlash.

However there's a world of difference between saying something and actually believing it. Right from the first whistle, Leinster looked flat, like a team that just turned up expecting to win, with no genuine fear of losing. Northampton smelt blood and their big pack were able to play the game the way they had planned the week before when they were left confused and bewildered as the Leinster pack more than met their physical challenge.

Last week however, robbed of the man who often sets the physical tone in Sean O'Brien, it's fair to say the Leinster pack wilted under the relentless assault of the Saints pack. Their gameplan wasn't subtle but it was hugely effective and with better handling out wide they would have been out of sight long before the dramatic finale. Of course that last play, the knock-on on the Saints line that was ran in for a try, meant Leinster went from potentially winning the game to not even taking a losing bonus point. It was the first time since January 2008 that Leinster had failed to take any points from a pool match and that point could prove crucial.

In the post-match aftermath there were some red herrings blamed such as the fact that the game was in the Aviva stadium and the performance of referee Jerome Garces. Neither really held much water though. Leinster played nearly as badly at home to Castres in the second pool match in the RDS but got away with it mainly through luck. As for Garces, well obviously he's a curse on rugby who regularly ruins matches through his incompetence and complete lack of feeling for the game but he was equally as bad for both teams. And Leinster fans shouldn't forget either that in the home game against Castres, they were actually the beneficiary of some poor officiating on a couple of crucial occasions.

What should really concern Leinster fans so far this year in the Heineken Cup is the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their performances between home and away. It is customary for teams to struggle away and excel at home but Leinster have got it mixed up for some reason. When on their travels, Leinster have been excellent, with a perfectly-pitched performance away to Ospreys and then an absolutely supreme one away to Northampton. Both the follow-up performances were poor though, completely lack-lustre in tempo and tactically inept and this is where coach Matt O'Connor must take some responsibility.

After the pin-point tactical kicking that tortured the Saints the week before, why did Leinster return to lazy, ill-thought out hoofs down the middle in the Aviva? Ken Pisi must have thought he was in for another nightmare day but the poor kicking game, allied with weak chasing, meant he had pretty much an armchair ride. It is worrying and perplexing that this actually seems to be a policy not just an aberration.

So a bad day at the office but before we get too negative, Leinster still won the head-to-head battle with Northampton 5-4 and lead by four points in the pool. We knew this was a tough group from the start so some set-backs were inevitable and if the players learn from it, it will stand to them later in the competition when they face two tough games away to Castres and at home to the Ospreys only five days later. However they know now there's no room for mistakes.

But that's three weeks away, before that Leinster need to get back in action with a busy Pro12 programme over the Christmas period. There are inter-pros against Ulster and Connacht to come but first up there is a trip to Edinburgh. Edinburgh have certainly shown some signs of improvement this season under new coach Alan Solomons. They had a bad start in the league losing four out of their first five but then sprung a major surprise by deservedly beating Munster in the first pool match of the Heineken Cup. Unfortunately they followed that up with a bad beating away to Perpignan. Like Leinster they split their double-header against Gloucester in an odd way, losing at home and then winning away.

In the league they've won three out of their last four games so they've moved up to eighth place in the table. They've rotated their team for tomorrow night but are able to welcome back internationals in number eight David Denton and prop Alasdair Dickinson. Ross Ford and Willem Nel complete a fine front row with Dickinson. Ollie Atkins comes into the second row to partner Grant Gilchrist and Denton's return means Cornell Du Preez moves to blindside with Roddy Grant completing the pack as open-side.

The big back three of Jack Cuthbert, Dougie Fife and Tom Brown is unchanged but Nick De Luca comes in to partner Ben Atiga in the centre. With three out-halves injured in Harry Leonard, Gregor Hunter and Piers Francis, full-back Greig Tonks continues in the number ten shirt and will partner skipper Greig Laidlaw.

Typically for this time of year Leinster have named a massively changed team which shows eleven changes to the side that began last week. Shane Jennings is the only survivor from last week's pack and Kevin McLaughlin and Jordi Murphy are in the back row with him. Leo Cullen is fit enough to start and he skippers the team alongside Tom Denton in the second row. Michael Bent, Aaron Dundon and Martin Moore are the front row.

Isaac Boss is fit to come back after not playing any rugby for several weeks now. He partners Ian Madigan who forms an exciting looking midfield trio with Brian O'Driscoll and Noel Reid. Zane Kirchner is named at full back and Darragh Fanning is rewarded for his good form in the A team with a place on the right wing with Luke Fitzgerald retaining his place on the left.

With a horribly wet and windy night forecast and two uneven looking teams, don't expect any sort of a classic. It could well be a game to sloppily grind through but hopefully Leinster will do enough.

Team Lineups

Edinburgh Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Jack Cuthbert 15 Zane Kirchner
Dougie Fife 14 Darragh Fanning
Nick De Luca 13 Brian O'Driscoll
Ben Atiga 12 Noel Reid
Tom Brown 11 Luke Fitzgerald
Greig Tonks 10 Ian Madigan
Greig Laidlaw (C)
9 Isaac Boss

Alasdair Dickinson 1 Michael Bent
Ross Ford 2 Aaron Dundon
Willem Nel 3 Martin Moore
Grant Gilchrist 4 Leo Cullen (C)
Ollie Atkins 5 Tom Denton
Cornell Du Preez 6 Kevin McLaughlin
Roddy Grant 7 Shane Jennings
David Denton 8 Jordi Murphy

Replacements Aleki Lutui 16 James Tracy
Wicus Blaauw 17 Jack O'Connell
Geoff Cross 18 Tadhg Furlong
Sean Cox 19 Quinn Roux
Mike Coman 20
Dominic Ryan
Grayson Hart 21 John Cooney
Tony Fenner 22 Jimmy Gopperth
Sam Beard 23 Brendan Macken

Not Considered
due to Injury
Harry Leonard,
Gregor Hunter,
Piers Francis,
Izak van der Westhuizen

Edward Byrne,
Conor Gilsenan,
Dan Leavy,
Andrew Goodman,
Richardt Strauss,
Fergus McFadden,
Cian Healy,
Sean O'Brien
Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU),
Assistant Referees: Andrew McMenemy, TBC (both SRU),
Citing Commissioner: Iain Goodall (SRU),
TMO: Iain Ramage (SRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2013-12-20