Saturday 24 March 2018

Blues ready for Exeter's direct style as physical battle looms

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IN PICKING just two backs among Leinster's substitutes for their opening match in defence of the Heineken Cup, Joe Schmidt has opened a little window into his mind.

Exeter Chiefs arrive with absolutely nothing to lose and a name for not respecting reputations. They have been talking all week about making their Heineken Cup debuts and this team of journeymen-made-good want to leave an imprint at the RDS.

Leinster expect physicality and Damian Browne's selection ahead of Devin Toner tells its own tale. The champions will not underestimate Exeter -- they stop being the holders today.

The Chiefs will be direct. They will target the Leinster pack and in choosing to include both Leo Auva'a and Jordi Murphy to cover the back-row, the hosts have acknowledged the threat.

Starting Kevin McLaughlin -- who came off after 12 minutes against Munster last Saturday -- is clearly a risk but, given the options available, there was little choice.

In the backline, Rob Kearney and Gordon D'Arcy miss out, despite the positive noises made about both players this week.


It means we get another peek at the next generation, with Ian Madigan looking to build on the positives of his outing last weekend. The 23-year-old full-back made a major error in the build-up to Munster's try last week and will be targeted, but his attacking threat and passing range make it worth the gamble.

Andrew Conway must be delighted with his first real run of games and, having overcome the stinger that saw him stretchered off last weekend, will want to make an impact on his European debut. Fergus McFadden impressed at inside centre last weekend and can make life difficult for the returning D'Arcy with a big display.

The backs, though, will need a platform and against Exeter's Tom Hayes, Tom Johnson and Richard Baxter the physical exchanges are set to be immense.

Shane Jennings led brilliantly last weekend, while Cian Healy's return adds another dimension to the Leinster ball-carrying threat. Browne and Cullen add grit and strength, while Jamie Heaslip is due a big game.

The champions have been talking Exeter up all week, but they know that home games are the key to unlocking a three-in-a-row bid -- especially with trips to Llanelli, Clermont and Devon to come.

This is a must-win game for Leinster and they are more than good enough to achieve it.

Verdict: Leinster.

LEINSTER -- I Madigan; A Conway, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen, D Browne; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Reps: S Cronin, H Van der Merwe, J Hagan, J Hagan, D Toner, L Auva'a, J Murphy, I Boss, F Carr.

EXETER CHIEFS -- L Arscott; I Whitten, P Dollman, J Shoemark, M Jess; G Steenson, H Thomas; B Sturgess, S Alcott, C Rimmer; T Hayes (capt), J Hanks; T Johnson, J Scaysbrook, R Baxter. Reps: C Whitehead, B Moon, C Budgen, A Muldowney, D Mumm, W Chudley, I Mieres, S Naqelevuki.

Leinster v Exeter,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 3.40

Irish Independent

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