Glasgow a massive test for us – Easterby
AFTER dealing with the uncertainty of international availability and the fallout of the Test body count, provincial coaches can settle into the longest unbroken stretch of the season, which for Leinster kicks off against an in-form Glasgow tonight.
Joe Schmidt is counting the cost of the injuries and suspensions his squad have incurred over the past number of weeks as he looks to guide his team into the Pro12 play-offs and latter stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
The New Zealander will be thankful for the fine form the second string showed during the spring as his side racked up four wins out of four to put themselves firmly in position for the last four.
Victory over table-topping Warriors can propel them above the Scots and into the top two, with a home semi-final a realistic prospect. The Scots are in flying form and impressed when they beat Ulster at home before the break.
Indeed, the two-week gap came at the wrong time for both of these teams, who were the league's form sides as the campaign stopped for the final two Six Nations weekends.
"Glasgow are going really, really well," Leinster centre Eoin O'Malley admitted. "Over the last couple of seasons they have really put it up to us and the games have been close.
"It will be a seriously tough game, with the way the league is going especially. Glasgow are extremely physical; if you don't turn up you'll be in trouble. They've improved their off-loading game in recent weeks as well and that's something we're conscious of."
The Old Belvedere man partners Gordon D'Arcy in the centre, with the experienced campaigner back in action for the first time since injuring his foot for Ireland against England, with Ian Madigan partnering Isaac Boss at half-back.
Isa Nacewa will be the centre of attention at the RDS after announcing his shock retirement in mid-week and he lines out at full-back, with Dave Kearney and Munster-bound Andrew Conway on the wings.
Up front, Michael Bent starts at tighthead after failing to make the Ireland bench, with Sean Cronin and Heinke van der Merwe making up the front-row. Quinn Roux gets a shot in the second-row beside captain Leo Cullen.
The back-row will have a big job on their hands against a vibrant Warriors side and Schmidt has named the experienced Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings alongside the in-form Jordi Murphy. The coach will be hoping that the former Blackrock College student can keep up the high standards he set during an outstanding February.
The visitors are well aware of their task and although Chris Cussiter is out for the season, Gregor Townsend has named a strong side, with returning Scotland internationals Ruaridh Jackson and Sean Lamont among the replacements. Former Ulster winger Tommy Seymour starts.
Townsend is fully aware of the significance of this game, but these sides have been evenly matched in recent years and he believes that the Scots can get a result.
"Leinster are the only team to still have a 100pc home winning record in the league and that shows just how difficult our task will be this weekend.
"For the past few seasons they have been the best in Europe at playing with pace, ambition and aggression," the former Lions fly-half said.
"We have picked a team which we believe is capable of winning the game. This represents a marker of where we are this season and we are fully aware of the significance of getting a result in Dublin. We will give everything we have to secure a win."
A bonus point in defeat might be more realistic for the visitors, who can cause Leinster problems but may struggle to contain the pace in the hosts' backline if Murphy and Co can get them going off front-foot ball.
The European champions are fully aware of the task in hand, according to team manager Guy Easterby.
"It's a massive game," he said. "They've won seven in a row and the last five are bonus-point wins so they're incredibly strong, not only at home which they've always been but they're now travelling well, so it's a really tough game for us and a huge game in the context of our season ahead.
"Glasgow are top of the table, they're two points ahead of us and we've got them at home. We know what their run-in is, what our run-in is but we've got some massive games coming up and, as a squad and a coaching staff, we are just looking to this weekend and we'll reassess after that."
LEINSTER – I Nacewa; D Kearney, E O'Malley, G D'Arcy, A Conway; I Madigan, I Boss; H van der Merwe, S Cronin, M Bent; L Cullen (capt), Q Roux; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Murphy. Reps: A Dundon, J McGrath, J Hagan, D Toner, D Ryan, J Cooney, B Macken, F Carr.
GLASGOW WARRIORS – P Murchie; T Seymour, A Dunbar, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe; D Weir, N Matawalu; M Low, D Hall, E Kalman; T Ryder, A Kellock (capt); R Harley, J Barclay, J Strauss. Reps: P McArthur, G Reid, J Welsh, J Eddie, R Wilson, H Pyrgos, R Jackson, S Lamont.
REF – N Owens (WRU).
Leinster v Glasgow Warriors,
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