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Blues need to pack a punch

LEINSTER will have to deal professionally with the greater of two Italian evils in Benetton Treviso in Dublin tomorrow as Ulster will bank on five points against winless Zebre tonight.

There were positive signs for Leinster found in the patchy form of Ulster in their second loss all season last week. There is a nine-point gap from the leaders to Joe Schmidt's men in third.

But don't forget, Ulster have to travel south to take on Leinster at what is sure to be a feverish RDS on March 30, one week before the Heineken Cup quarter-finals. That will be a tasty one.

There has been a mass of Irish muscle released from international duty. Prop Cian Healy will not number among them as the wrangle over his 'three or four-week' suspension rumbles on.

Back rowers Rhys Ruddock and Kevin McLaughlin, wing Luke Fitzgerald, scrum-half Eoin Reddan and Fergus McFadden will add quality to the mix.

Better again, centre Eoin O'Malley returned from injury to make a reasonable contribution, by all accounts, in his 21-minute cameo for his 50th cap at Cardiff Blues last Friday night.

Fly-half Ian Madigan also reminded Schmidt that he can mitigate the severe loss of Jonathan Sexton in a 16-point demonstration of how hard he is working at his game.

Treviso will have to endure their third successive away date in the PRO12, already finding Glasgow (41-7) and the Dragons (23-14) too hot to handle.

As ever, coach Franco Smith will have his charges eager and ready for what will come their way physically. It is the speed at which it happens that will make all the difference.

Leinster will have to assert their dominance in the forward exchanges or it could be a long night. This is where the return of Heinke van der Merwe and the influence of Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings will be paramount.

Leinster v Benetton Treviso, The RDS, Saturday (KO 5.0)

Verdict: Leinster