Wednesday 21 November 2018

Captain O'Brien issues rallying call as Leinster seek revenge in Italy

Leinster back Jordan Larmour has been included on a three-man shortlist for World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, alongside South Africa wing Aphiwe Dyantyi and New Zealand prop Karl Tu’inukuafe. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster back Jordan Larmour has been included on a three-man shortlist for World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, alongside South Africa wing Aphiwe Dyantyi and New Zealand prop Karl Tu’inukuafe. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Champions do things differently. Even after the event.

An April humiliation in Galway may not have stalled Leinster's momentum in their quest for a trophy double but it did offer them sufficient pause for thought after they had secured it.

This season, the return to Galway occurred much earlier in the calendar and so Leo Cullen's side agreed to change their approach to the September fixture.

Instead of travelling down on the day, the pitched their tents overnight. It helped, too, that as strong a team as possible was picked, for Leinster's reserves had visibly wilted back in April.

Last month, Sean O'Brien made his long-awaited comeback from injury, entering the fray much earlier than expected as Leinster cruised to a 20-3 win, quite a contrast from the 47-10 pummelling they got the last time.

This week, O'Brien captains another significantly strengthened side for an engagement that might have hardly detained the province's fully committed interest in the past.

Then again, Benetton's historic victory in the RDS late last term - a first ever Italian win on Leinster soil - still rankles despite all the success achieved by the team in 2018.

Leinster will have to operate without the Irish international contingent during November so, by including no less than eight players who are expected to feature against the All Blacks next month, O'Brien is hoping that the squad's leading lights can set an example the rest can follow.

"We just didn't physically turn up to that game," says O'Brien of that RDS reverse to the admittedly improved Italians.

"That was a major part of last year.

"They're a very good side, a really big pack. In November, we've previously done well when the internationals do go away so we know it will be a big step-up for everyone else and it is important for them to put the best foot forward."

While O'Brien may not start against the All Blacks, Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan are most likely to, along with sub Dan Leavy. Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter and today's captain may be on the bench for that eagerly awaited duel.

But first thing's first, as Leinster seek to rebound from last week's disappointment in Toulouse.

"It's about getting back to what we're best at and making sure we don't make mistakes and put ourselves under pressure like we did last weekend," adds O'Brien.

"That's probably going to be the big learning from it all. The squad is very tight. This will help reinforce depth of the squad, a few lads will play who haven't played in a couple of weeks so that will be good for us."

With the home side weakened by preparations for the following week's international clash between Italy and Ireland in Chicago, Leinster should have little difficulty in re-mounting the horse and establishing former control of their Conference.

Adam Byrne is an interesting pick on the wing; this time last year he was preparing for his first international cap.

Verdict: Leinster

Benetton - J Hayward; R Tavuyara, I Brex, A Sgarbi (C), M Ioane; A Rizzi, D Duvenage; D Appiah, H Faiva, M Riccioni, I Herbst, F ruzza, G Pettinelli, M Lamaro, M Barbini. Reps: T Baravalle, A De Marchi, S Ferrari, A Zanni, M Lazzaroni, T Tebaldi, T Iannone, A Esposito.

Leinster - R Kearney; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, R Henshaw, J Tomane; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, J Tracy, T Furlong, S Fardy, J Ryan, S O'Brien (C), D Leavy, M Deegan. Reps: B Byrne, E Byrne, A Porter, R Molony, R Ruddock, H O'Sullivan, N Reid, C O'Brien.

Ref - Ben Whitehouse (WRU).

Benetton v Leinster, Live, eir Sport 1, 4.0

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