Young guns facing stern Warriors test
DEFEAT in Galway on Wednesday was certainly not part of the plan but Leinster remain on course for a home Magners League semi-final ahead of tonight's meeting with Glasgow in Firhill (8.0).
Even in the extremely likely event of defeat against the Warriors this evening, their seven-point lead over the Ospreys and Munster (who meet in Limerick tomorrow) gives coach Michael Cheika room to manoeuvre ahead of their final assignment at home to Edinburgh on the second weekend in May.
It means a team of youngsters has made its way to Glasgow -- by plane, thankfully, after a ferry journey looked likely earlier in the week -- to ease the pressure that comes with three matches in seven days.
It is a side that has no relevance to the one that will take the field for the Heineken Cup semi-final assignment in Toulouse tomorrow week.
Hooker Bernard Jackman, who captains Leinster tonight, prop Mike Ross, No 8 Stephen Keogh and out-half Paul O'Donohoe were on the bench for the quarter-final win over Clermont but the team is dominated by youth and inexperience whereas Glasgow, well in the hunt for a play--off spot eight points behind Leinster in fourth, bring all their big names to the party.
That means the Scotland combinations of Dan Parks and Chris Cusiter at half-back, Max Evans and Graeme Morrison in midfield and the celebrated back-row of Kelly Brown, Jon Barclay and John Beattie. That would be a test for the full Leinster side let alone this selection and the visitors need their more experienced players to hold their hands up.
That includes Ireland second-row Trevor Hogan, a fine player whose time at Leinster has been dominated by injury and a periphery role when fit, and centre Fergus McFadden, still on the way up but with plenty of league exposure for Leinster this season and a player who could yet have a key role in Toulouse depending on the injury situation.
O'Donohue is asked to fill the playmaker's role outside Chris Keane but while the Clontarf man has the footballing skills for the job, it is a big ask given he plays most of his rugby at scrum-half.
Rhys Ruddock makes his third senior appearance on the blindside flank (with his brother Ciaran in the second row next to Hogan) and, despite the enormity of the challenge, the Ireland U-20 captain cannot contain his enthusiasm.
"If you told me at the start of the year I would have the chance to play two full games for the senior team I would have taken that, so this is another great opportunity to try and make an impression," said Ruddock.
"It's also nice to be playing with Ciaran in the Magners League for the first time because we have played a lot together this season in the AIB League with UCD. There are a lot of changes to our team but we're going to approach this game in a positive manner. There's a strong determination to uphold the traditions of the jersey."
In the circumstances, a losing bonus point would be a phenomenal achievement for Leinster but Glasgow look far too savvy and powerful and should win with something to spare.
GLASGOW -- B Stortoni; C Shaw, M Evans, G Morrison, HO'Hare; D Parks, C Cusiter; K Tkachuk, F Thomson, M Low; T Barker, A Kellock (capt); K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie. Reps: D Hall, E Kalman, D Turner, C Forrester, M McMillan, D Weir, R Dewey.
LEINSTER -- I Madigan; Simon Keogh, E O'Malley, F McFadden, M Keating; P O'Donohoe, C Keane; R McCormack, B Jackman (capt), M Ross; T Hogan, C Ruddock; R Ruddock, P Ryan, Stephen Keogh. Reps: J Harris-Wright, J McGrath, M Flanagan, D Ryan, D Moore, K Tonetti / B Macken, A Conway.
REF -- J Jones (Wales).
Glasgow Warriors v Leinster
Live, Setanta Ireland, 8.0