Wednesday 17 January 2018

Blues can take upheaval in stride and end first-day jinx

Conor George

Conor George

LEINSTER must show a capacity to deal with monumental changes in personnel both on and off the pitch when they take on Scarlets in their opening encounter of the Pro12 campaign in Wales tonight (7.05).

They have undergone the most dramatic of upheavals since winning the league final last May.

Joe Schmidt has moved to new offices in Lansdowne Road, Jonathan Sexton is experiencing life in Paris and Isa Nacewa has returned to the southern side of the equator to enjoy retirement.

And the changes don't end there. Eoin O'Malley has had to cut short a promising career because of injury and Andrew Conway has opted to see if Munster's red jersey fits him any better than Leinster's navy.

Given Leinster's outstanding successes in recent seasons it is astonishing they have only ever won their opening round game once since the tournament was first played on a home and away basis in 2003/04 – in 2007 when they beat Edinburgh at the RDS.

It is something Eoin Reddan spoke about passionately when he emphasised the need for the team to show more urgency in the early rounds of the season.

"We need to have our skill levels and performance level high right from the start," he urged.

Tenure

The players will want to afford Matt O'Connor a winning start. The Australian was recruited from Leicester to replace a coach who helped transform Leinster and who has now been charged with leading the national team. They are big shoes to fill.

The new man has a tremendous reputation and has impressed the players since coming in. They will be determined to spare him the introduction Schmidt had to endure when Leinster lost five of his first six games in charge.

Leinster are fortunate that they can call on some steady hands to steer the ship tonight even without the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip.

Shane Jennings captains the side, while Fergus McFadden partners Gordon D'Arcy in the centre, with Luke Fitzgerald starting on the left wing as he continues his comeback from injury.

Martin Moore's positive showing against Northampton Saints' Lion Alex Corbisiero last weekend is rewarded by a starting berth at tighthead.

It is a very strong Leinster team for O'Connor's first competitive outing and they should be good enough to win.

LEINSTER – D Kearney; D Fanning, F McFadden, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Moore; T Denton, D Toner; R Ruddock, S Jennings, J Murphy. Subs: A Dundon, J O'Connell, M Ross, M McCarthy, D Ryan, I Boss, N Reid, B Macken.

SCARLETS – G Owen; L Williams, S Williams, S Shingler, K Phillips; R Priestland, G Davies; P John, K Owens, S Lee; G Earle, J Snyman, A Shingler, J Turnbull, R McCusker. Subs: E Phillips, R Evans, J Adriaanse, Jake Ball, C Price, R Williams, A Warren, J Williams.

Scarlets v Leinster,

Live, BBC Wales/RTE online 7.05

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