Leicester Tigers v Leinster
Welford Road, tonight 7.30
Coach Joe Schmidt will have to locate a discernible improvement in Leinster's attack and defence in their final pre-season run-out when they venture into the pit that is Leicester Tigers' Welford Road this evening.
The six-try drubbing from a switched-on London Wasps was a reality check that seemed to catch Schmidt unawares. It was followed by his 'surprise' at the restrictions imposed by the IRFU on the buying power and availability of players ahead of next year's World Cup.
Kurt McQuilkin's defensive strategies have been left to a co-operative agreement between the senior players and Schimdt on how to move forward in the tackle area. It is a far distance from desirable.
Schmidt has to re-invent or re-establish a watertight defence while activating an attack that produced the second lowest number of tries, next to Connacht, in the Magners League last season.
Attack is his forté. All the signs are that Leinster will play the kind of fluid, attractive style of ball-in-hand rugby for which they were renowned until Michael Cheika reverted to the 'defence wins championships' attitude to the game.
On a positive note, the rookies will be given a fair crack of the whip. David Kearney, Andrew Conway, Brendan Macken, Eoin Sheriff, Paul Ryan and Dominic Ryan, among others, will be given the game time to explore the professional arena.
The biggest individual battle will be between fit-again Luke Fitzgerald and British & Irish Lions full-back Rob Kearney for the number 15 jersey. It promises to be worthwhile.
It was curious, perhaps revealing, that Fitzgerald only announced his intention to make the full-back slot his own in the wake of Michael Cheika's exit, although his long-term injury may have given him the time to consider his future.
Whatever, the contest will be the most exciting internal battle as two super-confident and world-class operators duel it out for the same jersey with Fitzgerald's greater versatility likely to see him repositioned on the wing or in the centre in the long-term.
The seriousness of Leinster's propping options, in the aftermath of Stan Wright's Achilles injury, is revealed by the inclusion of Ballymena tight-head Simon Shawe in the starting line-up tonight.
The appearance of Ireland U20 anchor Stewart Maguire in the replacements beside Jack McGrath, a loose-head, indicates the sound work carried out by the Academy Manager Colin McEntee.
Scotland lock Nathan Hines will play for the first time after a groin injury and summer signing Ed O'Donoghue will surely make his Leinster debut from the bench after his former Ulster colleague Isaac Boss starts at scrum-half.
The Tigers will look to follow up their 17-13 win over what was effectively Munster's second-string side in Cork last Friday night with a similarly strong XV. They plan to take no prisoners.
"That was not far off our strongest side and for Leinster it will probably be similar, the strongest side available," said their coach Richard Cockerill.
Given this, the decision of Schmidt to give former Ireland U20 Ian McKinley the nod at fly-half ahead of his protégé Isa Nacewa is an interesting choice. The coach is not afraid to ask his young brigade to step up to the mark.
They will need to make the adjustment in double-quick time.
LEINSTER: L Fitzgerald; D Kearney, E O'Malley, F McFadden, N Morris; I McKinley, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, S Shawe, N Hines, D Toner, D Ryan, S O'Brien (capt), S Keogh.
LEICESTER: G Murphy; S Hamilton, O Smith, A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, M Castrogiovanni; C Green, G Skivington, C Newby, B Woods, O Waldrom. Replacements: tbc.