Ruddock braced for 'difficult challenge' at Scarlets' fortress
Leinster's form during the Six Nations period has been less than impressive but the return of several Irish internationals for today's clash (5.15) against the Scarlets in Llanelli should go a long towards setting them back on track.
The time spent by the returning Ireland men in training with Leinster this week will have been minimal due to the national side's mini-camp in Belfast, but Matt O'Connor's hand is strengthened, so much so that as Rhys Ruddock said, it is a "must-win" game.
Ruddock continues his return from a broken arm and captains the side from the back-row; despite the strong XV that O'Connor has named, Ruddock knows the scale of the challenge at Parc y Scarlets.
The Welsh outfit are unbeaten in their eight home league games this season but Leinster did put 42 points on them at the RDS in September.
"Scarlets are in a similar position to us at the moment," Ruddock said. "They're kind of scrapping around for points, missing a few players - they'll get a few back this week.
"They're looking to catch up ground on some of the teams ahead of them, and they seem to be going really, really well at home.
"We can expect a similar challenge to last weekend. We're going to have to scrap for everything. We will find it very difficult to get a win but that's definitely our intention."
O'Connor is able to name an all-Irish international front-row as Cian Healy (who makes his first start for Leinster since the opening-day trip to Glasgow Warriors in September), Sean Cronin and Marty Moore all start.
Luke Fitzgerald and Mike McCarthy also return to the starting XV, having been included as Ireland's 24th and 25th men last weekend.
Like Leinster, Scarlets welcome back several big names, and none more important than Wales centre Scott Williams, who hasn't featured for his club since January.
Their league placing has been based around their formidable home record and their coach Wayne Pivac knows that they are well in the hunt for a top-six finish.
"This game is hugely important for us, if we can get a win here I think we'll be fine for top six when you look at the remainder of the season," he said.
"No disrespect to the opposition we play, or Connacht play, but they've got a lot tougher run-in; they're playing teams above them, we play teams below us. On that basis if we can stay in touch with them after this weekend we won't have to worry about other results too much.
"Leinster have been in the top four on numerous occasions in the last few years. They've done that by having depth in their squad, they probably felt a bit unlucky to come away with a draw last weekend away from home.
"They bounced back from the game against Dragons. We expect them to be fighting for the top four spot. We expect a big challenge from them and they bring a lot of experience with them this time of year.
"I'd like to think it'll be like a Test match how we treasure the ball and play field position."
Despite Williams' return and the fact that Scarlets are unbeaten at home in the league this season, the quality of players that Leinster have been able to call upon should tip the tie in their favour.
Scarlets - J Williams; H Robinson, R King, S Williams, H Parkes; S Shingler, A Davies; P John, K Owens (c), P Edwards; G Earle, J Snyman; L Rawlins, J Davies, J Barclay. Reps: R Elias, W Jones, J Adriaanse, J Payne, R Pitman, G Davies, R Priestland, A Warren.
Leinster - Z Kirchner; F McFadden, B Te'o, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Moore; M McCarthy, K Douglas; R Ruddock (c), D Ryan, J Conan. Reps: R Strauss, M Bent, T Furlong, T Denton, J van der Flier, I Boss, N Reid, D Kearney.
Ref - G Clancy (IRFU)
Scarlets v Leinster,
Live, Sky Sports 1, 5.15
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