Fitzgerald, Madigan look to turn heads
Published 01/03/2014 | 02:30
Leinster's hopes of overtaking Munster at the the top of the Pro12 table tonight are boosted by the inclusion of seven Ireland players who were involved in last weekend's narrow defeat to England at Twickenham.
Fergus McFadden is given a start at 13 as doubts begin to linger over Brian O'Driscoll's fitness ahead of the visit of Italy next weekend – the great man only took a limited part in Ireland training in Belfast yesterday.
Leinster coach Matt O'Connor has made 10 changes in total, including an entirely fresh pack. His side come into the game on the back of three consecutive bonus point league wins – a run of form which the coach puts down to quality and depth of his squad.
"The philosophy is fairly similar at Leinster to Tigers (Leicester) – it's the guys who are in the environment who make the difference, not the guys who aren't here," O'Connor said.
"Professional rugby is such that you lose guys to injury and various reasons throughout the course of the season, so you've got to be able to cope with it.
"You need to up-skill those blokes to be ready to fit in as seamlessly as possible. Thankfully through November and the Six Nations we've been pretty good injury-wise, which has given us the ability to keep chugging along and get some really important wins."
Leinster have not lost at the RDS since March last year but Glasgow will take plenty of confidence from their 12-6 win over the Blues at Scotstoun back in September.
O'Connor admits that the performance in Scotland still plays on his mind and although he knows how tough a challenge awaits this evening, he is fully expecting his side to continue their proud home record.
"They are pretty hard to beat. They are abrasive and make you work hard at the breakdown. They have a pretty good squad. They beat us over there – there wasn't much in it in the scoreline but we were really disappointed in the performance and will be looking to make amends."
Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald are also named in the starting XV and both have points to prove to Joe Schmidt.
With question marks over the fitness of Johnny Sexton, an assured performance from Madigan would put him right in the frame for a starting berth against Italy.
Fitzgerald is aiming to prove his fitness to the Ireland coach. Having been in terrific form in the early part of the season, an abdominal injury kept him out of action for the start of the Six Nations.
Fitzgerald played an hour last weekend without showing any ill-effects and O'Connor said that the winger is nearing a return to full fitness.
With Tommy Bowe on fine try-scoring form on his comeback for Ulster last night, Fitzgerald will be aiming to get back to the level that saw him look like a certain Irish starter.
Victory would put Leinster top of the table for at least 24 hours until Munster play Scarlets in Wales, but O'Connor is refusing to let himself or his team get ahead of themselves.
"It's impossible to gauge where we are at the moment because the turnover has been so large week-to-week," he said.
"It's very hard to develop combinations. But to be making that many changes and still be outperforming sides is really positive. Once those inexperienced guys are playing and getting some regular rugby, we'll be in a really good place."
Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Marty Moore make up a strong front-row, while Leo Cullen returns to the starting XV to skipper the side from the second-row alongside Mike McCarthy.
Newly-capped Jordi Murphy starts at No 8 and will be seeking a performance that will ensure his involvement in the match-day squad against Italy.
Gregor Townsend includes Tommy Seymour on the right wing after he was released by Scotland, while the impressive Niko Matawalu moves from scrum-half to the left wing.
Up front, Tim Swinson, who was also released by Scotland, starts in the second-row alongside 19-year-old Jonny Gray.
With top spot up for grabs and with players eager to prove a point to Schmidt, it's difficult to see anything other than Leinster extending their unbeaten home record.
Leinster – Z Kirchner; D Fanning, F McFadden, N Reid, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Moore; L Cullen (c), M McCarthy; R Ruddock, S Jennings, J Murphy. Reps: R Strauss, M Bent, M Ross, T Denton, D Ryan, I Boss, J Gopperth, D Hudson.
Glasgow Warriors – P Murchie; R Seymour, R Vernon, F Russell, N Matawalu; R Jackson, C Cusiter (c); G Reid, P MacArthur, M Cusack; T Swinson, J Gray; J Eddie, R Harley, J Strauss. Reps: F Brown, J Yanuyanutawa, E Kalman, L Nakarawa, T Holmes, H Pyrgos, M Bennett, L Jones.
REF – N Owens (Wales)
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