Sunday 21 January 2018

Blues bank on pack power to inspire rookie backs

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IT is a mark of Leinster's strength in depth that when you look at their starting pack for tonight's visit of Treviso, not one of the names will have you running to Google.

They might be without a host of their frontliners, but the European champions will expect a victory on the basis that their forwards should have no problem matching the Italians.

There might be inexperience in the backs, where Clontarf centre Colm O'Shea is handed a debut, but it is up front where tonight's visitors hope to do their damage, and they shouldn't get too much change out of a gnarled eight.

Kevin McLaughlin captains the team from the back-row, alongside fellow Ireland international Shane Jennings and the big-carrying Leo Auva'a, who is restored to the No 8 jersey.

Devin Toner and Damien Browne should secure the ball and offer themselves in the loose, while the all-southern hemisphere trio of Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss and Nathan White will not be intimidated by the Treviso front- row.

Coach Joe Schmidt warned that Treviso have won three away matches in this season's Pro12, but while the league leaders have room to breathe at the top of the table they won't want to slip up against a team they beat comfortably at the same stage last year.

The Italians are short the 11 players who are required at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday for the clash with England and, although Leinster are similarly affected by Ireland call-ups, Treviso don't have the same depth to call on.

Isa Nacewa, Isaac Boss and Fionn Carr will be expected to provide leadership to a backline short on experience but high on potential.

Ian Madigan gets another chance to show what he can do at out-half, while O'Shea lines up at inside centre alongside Brendan Macken. St Mary's tyro Darren Hudson is on the right wing.

They might not have much senior game time between them, but the young guns have plenty of pace, and Madigan will look to get the ball wide, where Hudson and Carr can do damage with their speed.

Treviso are just seven points away from the play-off places in a much-improved campaign that has seen Franco Smith's men win at Ulster and Connacht.

But Leinster should be a different kettle of fish and, given how often Schmidt refers back to his side's defeat in Italy last season, it seems clear that this is not a fixture the New Zealander takes lightly.

With the fifth-placed Scarlets at home next week before a tricky looking trip to fourth-placed Glasgow, the Blues will be keen to kick-off the Six Nations period with a confidence-boosting win.

With Luke Fitzgerald, Dominic Ryan and Mat Berquist all set to come back into the fold in the coming weeks, gaining the points with such an inexperienced backline would be just the fillip they are looking for.

Verdict: Leinster

LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; D Hudson, B Macken, C O'Shea, F Carr; I Madigan, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, N White; D Browne, D Toner; K McLaughlin (capt), S Jennings, L Auva'a. Reps: T Sexton, J McGrath, J Hagan, M Flanagan, J Murphy, JCooney, N Reid, A Boyle.

TREVISO -- L Nitoglia; B De Jager, E Galon, A Pratichetti, B Williams; A Di Bernardo, A Chillon; M Muccignat, E Ceccato, I Fernandez-Rouyet; F Minto, V Bernabo (capt); G Padro, B Vermaak, M Filippucci. Reps: D Vidal, C Fazzari, P Di Santo, M Fuser, E Pavanello, S Picone, G Garcia, T Iannone.

REF -- L Hodges (IRFU).

Leinster v Treviso

Live, RTE 2, 7.05

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