Treviso to test blues character
Want to know how much of an impact Italian newcomers Treviso are making on the Pro12? As the fellah says, talk to Joe.
"Yeah, I really enjoyed my time there last year," is Leinster coach Joe Schmidt's rueful reflection on the province's only previous visit to the Stadio Monigo 13 months ago, a 29-13 defeat.
Then, the Leinster coach was enduring a traumatic start to his coaching career in Ireland, confessing later that he feared the sack.
Just over a year later, the pressure is off, but the Italian job will be even tougher this time around, particularly as Leinster travel without their primary cast and the hosts continue to make a splash in the European game.
"They're going absolutely brilliantly," says Devin Toner, one of only six survivors from Leinster's first-half destruction of Glasgow last weekend. Treviso, in stark contrast, make just three changes, but retain all their front-liners.
"They've a chance to become the first Italian side to finish in the top four. They're coached brilliantly, they're well-drilled and they have a great pack. We're going to be up against it."
Only a remarkably composed penalty in the final seconds from Ospreys' Heineken Cup teenage debutant, Matthew Morgan, ensured the Welsh side escaped with a 26-26 draw from the fiery arena last weekend.
As a keen gauge of the big-spending outfit's ambitions in only their second year in league combat, coach Franco Smith's deep disappointment at frittering away that lead is indicative.
"I'm delighted that we were disappointed with the Ospreys result," says Smith, a survivor from the infamous 'Battle of Pretoria' between Ireland and South Africa in 1998.
"Twice they kicked the ball out at the end of the half which showed the respect they had for what we had done. We need to keep believing and keep working hard.
"Next up we've got Leinster, who are the European champions and (league) finalists last season as well. We beat them last year, but we will have to be at our best to be competitive. We want to get stronger every game, that is our ambition.
"After the Ospreys game, it's important than we learn the lessons. It's not just about what we do, it's about reacting to what has happened."
Shane Jennings captains a Leinster side that features Ian Madigan at out-half, coming in for his ninth appearance of the season, having touched down on three occasions so far.
Fergus McFadden, whose supposed dead leg careered into knee medial ligament damage last week, is named on the right wing in a back three which also includes Fionn Carr and Luke Fitzgerald, the latter once more shifted around the backline.
Clearly, Schmidt (below) is alighting on Gordon D'Arcy and Eoin O'Malley -- both try-scorers in the RDS last weekend -- as his first-choice centre combination.
Isaac Boss, a try scorer against Glasgow, is one of three Ireland internationals named among the replacements along with Jamie Heaslip and Kevin McLaughlin. they are joined by the likes of Brendan Macken and Jack McGrath, who have impressed in recent weeks with the British & Irish Cup team.
In the pack there are starts for Rhys Ruddock and Leo Auva'a, with Damian Browne, Jamie Hagan and Ireland prop Cian Healy all starting in a pack that seems, on paper at least, to compare unfavourably with an Italian eight marshalled by the irrepressible Alessandro Zanni.
"I've been pretty impressed with him," admits forwards coach Jono Gibbes, the new dad whose sleepless nights won't have been ameliorated by contemplating this week's challenge.
"He was earmarked from a line-out point of view (last year) -- he was pretty sharp there. I think Manoa Vosawai singlehandedly destroyed us and his involvement from the bench (this time) speaks of the depth they have got there."
Apart from Luke McLean replacing Ludovico Nitoglia at full-back, there are no changes among the backs.
In the pack Antonio Pavanello and Valerio Bernabo are the locks, while in the back-row, Paul Derbyshire comes back with his Italian team-mates Zanni and Robert Barbieri.
Matteo Muccignat (front-row), Francesco Minto (flanker) and Alberto Di Bernardo (out-half) are the three changes on the bench.
"It will be a good measure of our back-row to go there and to compete with them," acknowledges Toner. "You know we are going to get knocked down, but we have to get back up and into the game. I think that is kinda what happened to us last year, we got knocked down and we stayed down. They sort of ran over us. So it is a good test really."
Treviso's four-game winning run in the Pro12 ended at the hands of Edinburgh in round eight, but the Italians won the last time they faced Irish opposition, 23-12 against Ulster at Ravenhill last month.
Leinster are unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions since their 19-23 reversal at home to Glasgow in round three of the league. Leinster's only away defeat this season came on the opening weekend against Ospreys in Swansea.
Leinster have won their last four encounters with adversaries from Italy, but this will be some coup if they can emerge with a win, given their weakened line-up and the relatively poor impact from the bench last week.
"I think what's really good about this game is that, whoever plays in the pack, you kind of find out where you are, you know, the reality of forward play," adds Gibbes.
"As a pack, it's a good sort of place to go down to and judge, because I'm sure any weaknesses will be exposed.
"I don't think we went down necessarily in the right frame of mind last year and I think the result, the scoreline, spoke for itself, but there were some hidings all over the park.
"We kind of got bullied up front, to be fair, and I think these players are well aware of that. So I think there's a lot riding on this game for the forwards and I don't think there will be a lack of motivation."
Benetton Treviso -- L McLean; B De Jager, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, B Williams; K Burton, T Botes; M Rizzo, E Ceccato, L Cittadini; A Pavanello (capt), V Bernabo; P Derbyshire, A Zanni, R Barbieri. Replacements: F Sbaraglini, M Muccignat, I Fernandez Rouyet, B Vermaak, M Vosawai, F Minto, F Semenzato, A Di Bernardo
Leinster -- L Fitzgerald; F McFadden, E O'Malley, G D'Arcy, F Carr; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, J Hagan; D Browne, D Toner; R Ruddock, S Jennings (capt), L Auva'a. Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, N White, K McLaughlin, J Heaslip, I Boss, N Reid, B Macken.
Ref -- G Clancy (IRFU).
Treviso v Leinster,
Live, RTE2, 2.0