Sport Rugby

Monday 9 December 2019

Nacewa backs Blues young guns to give bogeymen a fright

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LEINSTER's bogey team arrive into Dublin 4 this evening with their needle primed to burst their hosts' bubble.

No one has pooped more Leinster parties over the last number of seasons than Edinburgh and they introduced themselves to new coach Joe Schmidt in style last month, sweeping Leinster aside in a 32-24 victory at Murrayfield.

That defeat stirred Schmidt's side into life; he called their defensive commitment into question. The players responded by beating Munster, Racing Metro, Saracens and Connacht -- conceding just two tries in the process.

But they achieved that impressive run of results with a full deck to choose from and this week the full-strength Scots will face a Leinster squad depleted by Ireland call-ups.

Schmidt had hoped to have Jonny Sexton available, but the raw Ian Madigan starts at No 10 after the St Mary's man was held back at Ireland camp.

Outside Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald's place is filled by the latest in the line of Blackrock College alumni -- Andrew Conway -- while Fergus McFadden and Eoin O'Malley reprise their Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll cover act.

One player to have caught the coach's eye in a recent 'A' game in Newport is Paul O'Donohoe, who makes the cut ahead of Isaac Boss at scrum-half as Schmidt remains true to his word that released Ireland squad members would only make the bench.

Up front, Leinster have delayed naming their full front row as they assess the condition Mike Ross is in after a full week's training with Ireland -- with Clint Newland the alternative to make his debut. Simon Shawe is expected to drop off the bench if Ross is fit enough to make an appearance.

Devin Toner is another international squad member to drop to the bench as Leo Cullen starts, while Dominic Ryan gets the nod ahead of Rhys Ruddock who, Schmidt admitted, has fallen down the pecking order after he was held back by the player welfare scheme at the start of the season.

Isa Nacewa slots into Rob Kearney's boots at full-back and the former Auckland man wants to keep the momentum going against a difficult opponent.

"They're a very skilled team," he said. "They're all skills, particularly their backs, they're good passers of the ball and if there is a lot of open space to play then they'll take it.

"They scored four tries against us the last time and four tries against us in the RDS in the last game last season, so that's eight tries conceded in the last two games against them, so they're difficult opponents."

In a week without O'Driscoll, D'Arcy and Jamie Heaslip to lead the way, the likes of Nacewa, Shane Horgan and Nathan Hines have assumed extra leadership roles in the squad.

Their coach has reminded them that their slow start means they are still in a precarious league position and need a win to keep their ambitions on track. While Nacewa is willing to step into the breach, he is backing youngsters like the impressive Conway to succeed.


"I'll definitely step up if I'm needed," he said. "But the young guys are so enthusiastic and keen that they are stepping up themselves in training.

"That's especially the case with someone like Conway, he's one of the fastest in our squad if not the fastest, so he's just raring to go, really.

"I haven't played against him and I don't really want to mark him, if he's as quick as they say in a proper game. Hopefully he'll take the opportunity."

Edinburgh will threaten an early Halloween fright, with Dutch wing Tim Visser their main threat outside the Blair brothers at half-back, but the hosts owe them one, and although they are weakened by the international call-ups, they still possess a strong enough team to get the job done.

Verdict: Leinster

LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O'Malley, F McFadden, A Conway; I Madigan, P O'Donohoe; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, C Newland/M Ross; L Cullen (capt), N Hines; D Ryan, S Jennings, S Keogh. Reps: J Harris-Wright, J McGrath, S Shawe, D Toner, R Ruddock, I Boss, S Berne, D Kearney.

EDINBURGH -- C Paterson; J Thompson, A Grove, J Houston, T Visser; A Blair, M Blair; A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross; S MacLeod, F McKenzie; N Talei, R Rennie, R Grant (capt). Reps: A Kelly, K Traynor, D Young, E Lozada, S Newlands, G Laidlaw, D Bishop, M Robertson.

REF -- C Damasco (FIR).

Leinster v Edinburgh,

Live, RTE 2, 6.05

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