Leinster's British and Irish Cup manager Guy Easterby believes that this evening's encounter in Donnybrook could be the province's toughest test of the campaign against a high-flying Newport side (KO 6.0).
Speaking ahead of the showdown, the former Leinster and Ireland scrum-half emphasised that valuable points remain at stake as table-toppers Leinster bid to qualify from Pool A in the fledgling competition, with qualification far from assured.
"As a group we're getting better week by week, but Friday's game against Newport will be a real test of our ambitions if we are to progress," he admitted ahead of the encounter. "We need to win our last two pool games to be sure of our qualification, and the players aren't taking anything for granted because Newport are flying in the Welsh Premiership and they're lying just a point behind us in the table. By the looks of things, the pool will go right down to the last weekend, so we need to be sharp in our approach and focused on the task at hand."
Fresh from the province's 22-10 victory over the Exeter Chiefs a fortnight ago, the Blues will be keen to make it four out of four in the competition, but Easterby is aware that Newport boast an impressive array of experienced, physical campaigners. "Newport are in a similar position to ourselves in that they should be set to call on a few of the fringe Dragons players who might not be getting a regular run of games in the Magners League. They also have the added advantage of playing regularly together as a group, so we will need to hit the ground running early doors. "We have managed to get footage of some of their recent games and they will bring a real abrasive edge to the game. They have done very well so far this season and they're coming from a proud rugby stronghold so they won't hold any fears about coming to Donnybrook.
"As a group we're reasonably pleased about how the competition is going. We have managed to maintain a blend of youth and experience all along, and it's great for the likes of Ian Madigan to have Shaun Berne playing outside him. For the young back-rowers such as Paul Ryan and Eoin Sheriff to have the likes of Stephen Keogh alongside them is invaluable, and they're all learning about the demands of playing in a pressurised, competitive environment.
"With the likes of David Kearney stepping up to the plate and Eoin O'Malley doing so well after coming back from injury, it gives the entire squad a lift to have increased pressure for places, which is how you want it. Hopefully Friday's game will kick-start a good weekend for the Irish teams across the board."