Monday 23 October 2017

Nacewa backing Blues to 'go all the way'

Sean O'Brien is poised to make a return from injury ahead of schedule
Sean O'Brien is poised to make a return from injury ahead of schedule
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leinster legend Isa Nacewa is backing his former side to become the first team in the history of Pro12 competition to compile back-to-back titles as they prepare to complete their regular season against Edinburgh in the RDS this evening.

With Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen destined to enjoy an emotional post-match farewell to their supporters, the champions are cognisant that two more victories at their citadel this month will clinch them the title once more.

And Nacewa, now mental skills coach at Auckland Blues, is confident that his old province will be hosting another final.

"I'm backing them to go all the way and hopefully get another repeat performance at the RDS," said Nacewa, who scored two tries in the 2012 Pro12 final. "Glasgow are coming up strong, so it's exciting times to see who makes the play-offs.

"It has been such a long campaign, so the least amount of disruption you get, the better run you have into the final.

"Travel certainly takes it out of you, but training isn't that long at this time of year. It's about fine-tuning and getting your recovery right. By not getting on a plane, the recovery is a lot better."

While Leinster have clashed with Glasgow Warriors at the RDS in the last two semi-finals, Nacewa thinks the Scotsmen will get the points they need against Zebre this weekend to bring a first play-off game to Scotstoun.

"Glasgow have put themselves in a great position to control a home semi-final. They're really tough to beat at Scotstoun, and you'd put a lot of money on the two teams with home semi-final advantage to progress."

Including the premature but timely return of Sean O'Brien, Leinster coach Matt O'Connor has made eight changes from the win last Friday against Ulster.

Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip complete the back-row, Murphy coming in for one of last week's try scorers, Shane Jennings.

The other changes in the pack see a completely new front-row as recently crowned Leinster Rugby Players' Player of the Year Jack McGrath lines out with Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross.

BOOST

There are two changes to the backs, with Rob Kearney making way for Fergus McFadden, another timely boost as there had been doubts about whether the utility back could return in time for the run-in.

Sadly, confirming his season may be at end, Luke Fitzgerald has not even been considered.

The final change is a straight swap at out-half, with Jimmy Gopperth coming in for his 27th Leinster cap, with 212 points to his name this year, and Ian Madigan reverting to the bench.

Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons has named three personnel changes with Harry Leonard, in his last match for the club, starting at out-half.

Carl Bezuidenhout will move to full-back as Jack Cuthbert is on Sevens duty with Scotland, and Sam Beard starts in place of the injured winger Tom Brown.

Young lock Ben Toolis gets his second start of the season, allowing David Denton to return to No 8.

Leinster go into the match needing just one league point to guarantee a home play-off, and two to guarantee the top seed.

"Leinster are a benchmark team in Europe," declares former Ulster coach Solomons. "They are an outstanding side that is well balanced and play a physical game at a high tempo, complemented by some very talented individuals.

"They've got a huge depth of experience in their squad that has been built over a long time. They are bearing the fruits of the work that has been put in over the last 10 years.

"It is a massive challenge to play them at home. We know what to expect and we have to gear ourselves appropriately, grit our teeth and put in a good performance."

The defending champions have lost just one of their last 11 contests in the competition (to Ospreys in round 19).

O'Connor's men have not been defeated at the RDS in any competition since Ulster were the visitors in March.

However, Edinburgh won 11-6 when the two sides met at Murrayfield in round 10, with the Scotsmen targeting their first double over the Dubliners since 2003/04. Some hope.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster – Z Kirchner; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, D Kearney; J Gopperth, I Boss; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), M McCarthy, S O'Brien, J Murphy, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, M Moore, R Ruddock, D Ryan, L McGrath, I Madigan, R Kearney.

Edinburgh – C Bezuidenhout; S Beard, M Scott, A Strauss, T Visser; H Leonard, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, W Nel, G Gilchrist, B Toolis, M Coman, T Leonardi, D Denton. Replacements: J Hilterbrand, W Blaauw, S Berghan, A Toolis, D Basilaia, G Hart, P Francis, B Atiga.

Ref – L Hodges (WRU)

LEINSTER V EDINBURGH,

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