Thomas eager to do battle with potential Lions top dog Sexton
Scarlets' stand-in out-half Aled Thomas (below) is relishing the opportunity of pitting himself against the man widely touted to wear the No 10 jersey on next year's Lions tour to Australia, Jonny Sexton.
"He is a fantastic player, who is playing at the top of his game, and potentially could be number one with the Lions," enthused Thomas, who is slotting in at pivot as Rhys Priestland continues to struggle with Achilles problems.
"It is a great opportunity for me to put myself up against one of the leading outside-halves in European rugby. It is a challenge I am looking forward to.
"There will be a big crowd again, like there was against Ulster and the Ospreys, but that's great. For us it is about focusing on our performance and trying to get a big result.
"You never want opportunities to come because of injury, but it has worked out that way. I learned a lot last year from Rhys and Stephen Jones and I know there have been some big names who have worn the jersey before me, but I am not shying away from that. I am always working hard and hopefully I can make a difference to the team."
In contrast, Leinster can welcome back all their big guns and even afford to leave Brian O'Driscoll on the bench.
"As a backline we have played a lot together," said Kearney, who renews a back-three partnership with Luke Fitzgerald and Isa Nacewa for the first time since last April's epic semi-final victory against Clermont.
"There have been a lot of different combinations this year but the amount of time that guys have got with each other is always increasing.
"We know each other very well and can read each other's body language and I think that's important.
"But regardless of the calibre of player coming back there's a bit of freshness and energy, and I think that's brought a lot to us as well. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks that energy will spur everyone on and lift the whole standard of training and indeed the games.
"It's just about having bodies and voices back on the field that you might not be used to. There's more competition for places so naturally guys up their own level of performance and it just brings a bit of excitement back as well."
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