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Rebels ready for unfamiliar Blues

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt gives a debut to ex-Canterbury Crusaders fly-half Mat Berquist against the Super-15 Melbourne Rebels in an uncapped, pre-season friendly at Donnybrook this evening.

South African second row import Steven Sykes will begin this part of his career from the bench as former Leinster Academy players Fionn Carr and Jamie Hagan both return home from a spell with Connacht.

Number eight Leo Auva'a, scrum-half John Cooney and Darren Hudson will make their first senior appearance for the province as back rower Rhys Ruddock takes over the captaincy.

It is difficult to know what to expect from the home side with so many unfamiliar combinations and former age-grade internationals thrown in with first-team players Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Dominic Ryan and Ruddock.

The Rebels conceded three first-half tries in their 15-3 defeat by Worcester Warriors on Tuesday night to go with their 15-0 whitewash by Bath last Saturday.

The miserable return of three points from two matches would indicate their attack isn't quite a rapier force in what is an end-of-season development tour which looks kindly on the claims of younger players.

The experience from two matches in England suggests Leinster, notoriously slow starters last season, will have a job on their hands as they take their first shot at moulding an unfamiliar squad with a host of new names.

Schmidt could be forgiven for talking-up the positives of performance over result.

If ever there was an occasion when this premise holds firm, it is here.

Verdict: The Rebels

Leinster: I Madigan; D Hudson, B Macken, E Sheridan, F Carr; M Berquist, J Cooney; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, J Hagan, M Flanagan, D Toner, R Ruddock (capt), D Ryan, L Auva'a.

Melbourne Rebels: TBA.