Thursday 17 October 2019

Return of big names steels Leinster for Treviso trip

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton during squad training
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton during squad training
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Would it be appropriate, given the time of year, to describe the spin to Treviso for Leinster as being scary? Their last three visits to that part of the world in early season have been winless, so you can imagine the theme at training all week.

There are reasons to be cheerful, however. Although discreetly placed halfway down the team announcement blurb on Friday, the return of Johnny Sexton is far and away the biggest item on the supporters' agenda.

It has been a long time coming - his last game for Leinster was in May 2013 - and given the injury toll from the World Cup campaign, Leo Cullen will be relieved to have him back so soon. Not that much has changed about the Leinster line-up since that day when they sent off Sexton, and coach Joe Schmidt, with a Pro 12 title, beating Ulster at the RDS.

That was a farewell, too, for Isa Nacewa, whose form since returning this season, after two years out of the game, has been phenomenal. He takes over the captaincy from the retired Kevin McLaughlin, and after an opening series of games where they have won three from five, none of which came away from home, he'll want to change that script.

In all, Leinster welcome back 12 players from World Cup duty, which you'd expect to have a transformative effect. It's timely in the front row, where Aaron Dundon is a casualty, with his second concussion in recent weeks - remarkably, Glasgow hooker Pat Macarthur had no case to answer subsequently for the forearm smash that put Dundon's lights out in the RDS last weekend. In any case, it's all a welcome opportunity for Sean Cronin, for whom the World Cup was a personal disaster, losing his place on the bench to Richardt Strauss, who is in that position this afternoon.

The reappearance of the marquee names is not all good, however, for it shunts the excellent Garry Ringrose into the background, while Josh van der Flier - who has also shown up well - at least retains a place in the match-day squad, as do Cathal Marsh and Noel Reid.

Treviso also welcome back another few of their World Cup warriors, with Luke McLean - who featured in the bonus-point defeat by the Dragons last weekend - and Edoardo Gori teaming up at half-back. That was Treviso's fourth losing bonus point from the five games so far in this campaign, which suggests they have the stomach for the fight, but not the wherewithal to do real damage. More worryingly for them is the stat of 12 defeats in a row stretching since February, when they whopped Cardiff. Maybe it's not that scary a trip for Leinster.

Treviso: J Hayward; L Nittoglia, A Pratichetti, S Christie, S Ragusi; L McLean, E Gori; D Giazzon, R Harden, M Fuser, F Paulo, F Minto, A Zanni, B Steyn. Reps: L Bigi, A de Marchi, S Ferrari, JM Manauriol, R Barbieri, C Smylie, J Ambosini, T Iannone.

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Leinster: I Nacewa (capt); F McFadden, B Te'o, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; J Sexton, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong, H Triggs, M McCarthy, R Ruddock, J Conan, J Murphy. Reps: R Strauss, C Healy, M Moore, D Toner, J van der Flier, L McGrath, C Marsh, N Reid.

Referee: A Brace (IRFU).

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